When it comes to news about the changes Facebook makes as a business, a lot of what occurs is still as a direct result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how Facebook attempts to quell the fires of its arguably irreparable public image.
Simply, the scandal was a result of the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica grossly misusing illegally obtained data from Facebook to bolster its work on the Trump campaign in 2016.
Who was involved?
The key perpetrators include:
- Alexander Nix – CEO of Cambridge Analytica
- Steve Bannon – VP of Cambridge Analytica and Senior Advisor to Trump 2016-2017
- Aleksandr Kogan – Russian-American Researcher at Cambridge University
- Rebekah and Robert Mercer – Conservative mega-donors
- Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook
The reason for such an outcry was that approximately 87 million Facebook users had their data exposed to Cambridge Analytica. The data was able to be collected in such vast quantities as it was actually gathered through a quiz app developed by the aforementioned Aleksandr Kogan, called MyDigitalLife. The app not only gathered the data of users that engaged with the app but also the data of their friends, by exposing a loophole in Facebook’s API.
The reason this scandal steps from the unlawful into the unethical was due to the intimate characteristics of the data. In some cases, users of the app had given permission for the app to access their newsfeed, timeline and even messages. The data relinquished to Cambridge Analytica allowed the company to create psychographic profiles of subjects (including the location of each person). For political campaigns, it allowed users to be targeted in a manner many have likened to psychological manipulation.
How does this link to the 2016 US election?
Cambridge Analytica was born when Steve Bannon approached conservative mega-donors Rebekah and Robert Mercer to fund a political consulting firm – The Mercers were once the largest donors to Trump’s campaign. Bannon became Vice President of Cambridge Analytica, and during the 2016 election, he reached out to the Trump campaign to introduce the two sides to form what was arguably the unity that won the president his seat in the oval office.
Bannon, of course, eventually became a Senior Adviser to Trump, before he was fired in August 2017.
Why is a Facebook scandal more than a Cambridge Analytica one?
Cambridge Analytica is still under investigation by the FBI for its involvement in the 2016 election and the uncooperative manner the company conducted itself with the authorities in regards to evidence in its possession. It is also under investigation by MI5 for its involvement in the Leave EU campaign for similar practises conducted during the US election.
However, Facebook is, of course, the most affected here, being inundated with billions worth in fines from copious governing bodies and more than $100 billion being knocked off Facebook’s market capitalisation in mere days.
The biggest blow to Facebook was the potentially irreparable damage to its public image. In the past year, Facebook has been working tirelessly to regain the public’s trust with various statements of apologies and seemingly genuine promises to do better. While not explicitly said to be tied to this scandal, the majority of Facebook’s recent moves, when viewed through a discerning lens, have been an attempt to win back the favour of its sum of 2.5 billion monthly average users. Examples such as its recent rebrand, or implementing its new ‘Off Facebook activity’ late last year.
Even over a year since the event, the scandal is still making headlines in 2020 and remains incredibly relevant heading into the first quarter of this year.
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