The Guardian has conducted a deep dive into how the Alt-Right mined data of millions of Facebook profiles to win the 2016 U.S. election. Unsurprisingly, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon was at the helm, but, unpredictably, a young Canadian gay man created the (in his own words) "psychological warfare mindfuck tool" that allowed them to do it.
Christopher Wylie is the whistleblower behind Cambridge Analytica, described in The Guardian's piece as a "mercenary market research company." Cambridge Analytica spent millions developing Facebook applications, like viral personality test mypersonality, to obtain users' psychological data in order to target them with political advertisements accordingly. Here's an example:
The idea arose from the concept that culture, like fashion and music trends, directly impacts politics and can be used as warfare. "[Bannon] got it immediately," Wylie told the Guardian. "He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking 'Ugh. Totally ugly' to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for."
Similarly, Wylie says Bannon saw the gay population in particular as an asset when it came to shifting the cultural consciousness. "He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It's why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing."
Not only were users allowing Cambridge Analytica access to their own personal data, but also allowing the company to mine that of 160 of their closest friends. Wylie claims after discovering they'd been compromised, Facebook did next to nothing to recover stolen information, nor did they announce the breach to their users — many of whom would have started to see this kind of ad:
According to Swiss data expert Paul-Olivier Dehaye, Facebook is "abusive by design" — a soft power that has been subtly impacting what we see and the way we think, to big results.
"It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it's failed in its duties to respect the law," Dehaye says. "It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn't. It's failed time and time again to be open and transparent."
Many have since taken to Twitter to announce they are deleting Facebook in protest of the role it played in the presidential election, as well as Brexit, in the wake of Wiley's revelations. As one user claimed: "If you don't pay for the product you ARE the product. Facebook sells all of your information to the highest and lowest bidders. Why sell yourself so cheaply?"
There are ways to short-circuit the insidious elements of Facebook without deleting it
- delete apps
- unlike ever… https://t.co/iubiGme4qU
If you're one of the millions looking to part ways with Facebook, they're not going to let you go easy. The site continues to track users 90 days after they deleted their account, as well as non-users across the web. Not to mention deleting Facebook would mean also ridding yourself of Facebook-owned Instagram and Whatsapp, so if you're really trying to remove yourself from the matrix, you're going to have to say goodbye to the lot — and even then, it might not be enough.