The often-misunderstood scandal involving Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook to obtain information on US voters has been vastly misrepresented by the left and the right, leading to large gaps in the arguments on both ends of the spectrum.
Let’s make one thing clear, the use of Facebook for a firm to obtain information on likely voters by asking them to take quizzes is not inherently nefarious. In fact, it’s a common tool used by different types of organizations to obtain data on consumers, likely customers, etc.
Many on the right will use this to discredit Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook as corrupt in any way, shape, or fashion, however, there is one fact that often omitted when defending Cambridge Analytica and Facebook that is a supremely important piece of information. Cambridge Analytica did not obtain 87,000,000 US citizens’ information by having them all fill out quizzes, rather only about 300,000 users filled out the quizzes which gave Cambridge Analytica access to those user’s entire friend network.
This means that less than 1% of the population gave the firm access to the information of almost one-third of the US population. This obviously changes the context quite a bit. Another piece of information that is crucial to understanding the scandal is that Facebook had supposedly stopped the practice of allowing third-parties to gain access to user’s whole friendship network after many, including then-candidate Obama, used the platform in a very similar way.
This being said, there is no evidence that Cambridge Analytica’s research did much to influence the outcome of the 2016 US elections, and the accuracy of their profiling of US voters is at best debatable. Regardless of where you stand when it comes to Cambridge Analytica’s methods or Facebook’s culpability, it is important to have all the facts.
Deputy Editor, The Unshackled
Host of the Front and Center Podcast