Donald Trump

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica 'Scandal' Is a Nothingburger

Guess what, you don't have to be on Facebook.


What the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal lacks in relevance it sure makes up for in melodramatic rhetoric. Take Bloomberg, for instance, which reported, "The revelations of the apparent skulduggery that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election keep sending shock waves across the political landscape." Well, it's partially true. Everyone is talking about it. The story has consumed most of the mainstream media.

The theory goes something like this: Facebook obtained information on users who took a personality quiz with their online friends. Another outlet, the advertising firm Cambridge Analytica, harvested that information, brainwashed a bunch of rubes and then yada, yada, yada…Russia! Former Cambridge Analytica contractor Christopher Wylie told CNN that while at the company, he helped build a "psychological warfare weapon" to "exploit mental vulnerabilities that our algorithms showed that (Facebook users) had." So, in other words, he worked in the advertising business.

Those who have covered politics for more than a single Trump cycle should know better than to use this kind of unnerving rhetoric for what amounts to nothing more than average microtargeting, which has been used by hundreds, if not thousands, of firms. Yet now, when it serves to bolster convoluted theories about an election having been overthrown, terms like "psychographics" and "breach" are being thrown around to make it sound like someone hacked into voter rolls after boring into the deepest recesses of our collective soul.

Here's a thought: If you're uncomfortable with data mining and your information being shared, don't take surveys. Because, guess what, you don't have to be on Facebook. You don't have to use Twitter. You don't have a constitutional right to play FarmVille without answering a survey. You don't get free stuff. The very existence of social media and tech companies is predicated on mining data so that they, or third parties, can sell you things. That has always been the deal.

Cambridge Analytica is a shady company owned by the British firm SCL Group—and, reportedly, in part by the right-wing-funding Mercer family—which claimed it could build models that identify persuadable voters by using six key personality types. Now it looks like Cambridge Analytica kept data it shouldn't have. Yet the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica's targeting was as questionable as its business practices. As others have pointed out, most Republicans used the firm to open to door to the Mercers' checkbook.

By constantly using the word "breach," reporters are trying to insinuate that someone stole voter data that typically was off-limits. Cambridge Analytica was allowed to pull that profile data. Facebook only changed its policy in early 2015. But before the general election, the Trump campaign dropped Cambridge Analytica for the Republican National Committee data, reportedly never using the any of the "psychographic" information. According to CBS News, in September 2016, it had "tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate."

Even if the campaign hadn't, however, its efforts would have been akin to those being heralded as revolutionary when serving the interests of Democrats. In fact, Facebook allowed the Obama campaign to harvest data in the same way that is now generating headlines and handwringing. Do you remember any outrage and trepidation over the privacy and manipulation of your thoughts in 2012? The only consistent position the left seems to take these days is that the mechanisms it uses to keep power automatically transform into something nefarious and undemocratic when the opposition uses them. If anything, there should be concerned about the ideological double standards of yet another tech giant.

Most of all, so what if voters were being "targeted"? Part of living in a free society means being bombarded by messages we don't like. The entire Facebook-Russiabots scare is predicated on the notion that people don't have free will. It's only once we start micromanaging the information Americans consume that we begin undermining choices. Of course, people shouldn't get their news from Facebook. And a reliable Fourth Estate that reports without bias to help Americans navigate through this messy contemporary digital life would be helpful. But the Cambridge Analytica story is just another example of how it fails.

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  1. This comments section seems to be hihnfected.

  2. Yet another Hihnspracy post, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    1. Hihnspiracy ?

      1. Hihnocracy

        1. Hihnsplaining

            1. Hihncubus

              1. Surely you don’t think that even the most advanced modern medicine could enable that…

          1. Hihnsanity

            1. Hihn Through the Out Door

    2. Hihncomprehensible Bitching

  3. One of the examples Wylie used as proof that Cambridge Analytica worked so well was by developing the slogan “drain the swamp,” a slogan literally in use for decades and around from before Wylie was born. This is the idiocy of the left.

  4. God damnit, why are you people so fucking stupid, you stupid fucking aggressors?

    Obama is awesome! Cambridge Analytica is from the devil! You stupid partisan hacks! With your face shask mumbo jumbo, and your treason, and your lies against America!

    The Trumptards are definiately out in the force of the whiny bitches!

    Left – Right equals SHIT FUCK BALLZ!

    1. It really is amusing how similar liberals are to fundamentalist religious people in behaviour, they just refuse to call their gods (political leaders) the word good. Any other description is the Sam, just not the specific word.

    2. Thank you for a true LOL this morning.

      1. Seconded.

  5. ” Another outlet, the advertising firm Cambridge Analytica, harvested that information,”

    Wow. Second paragraph and you already got a key detail wrong.

    Cambridge Analytica didn’t do the “harvesting” themselves, they bought the data from a third party that had done it.

  6. I’ve been dismayed by the vilification of Zuckerberg. His job is to make his business make money. Sure, his business may have undermined American democracy and initiated the apocalypse, but I was saying Facebook is the devil for years. It’s not his job to regulate his industry, it’s government’s.

    1. It’s not his job to regulate his industry, it’s government’s.

      “It’s not my job to not jack it in public, it’s the government’s job to stop me.”

      You really want to make the claim that people are not responsible for their own behavior?

      1. Corporations may be people, but if they are they’re psychopaths. Best to have a third party keep an eye on them.

        1. Corporations are made of people. It’s just weird that you’re expecting all those people to be psychopaths, too, while simultaneously assuming that all the people involved in a type of corporation called a “government” are NOT psychopaths.

          (By “weird” i mean “expected yet disappointing.”)

        2. Clearly, the intersection of politics and Facebook in this vile form shows us just how sinister corporations are.

          And it says absolutely nothing about politics and governing.

          Not at all.

      2. “”You really want to make the claim that people are not responsible for their own behavior?””

        Isn’t that the cornerstone of liberalism?

        1. So what do you want to have done to Mark Zuckerberg, again?

          1. Besides a public mocking for being a major douchebag, nothing.

        2. No, progressivism, which is a completely antiliberal ideology.

          1. That ship sailed long ago, but the futile struggle is a good look.

            1. It better be. Futile struggle is basically what libertarians have got.

              1. Buried under all of this is the clausius inequality. I’m sure of it.

    2. Sure, his business may have undermined American democracy and initiated the apocalyps

      His business facilitates free expression.

      but I was saying Facebook is the devil for years.

      We all know that free expression is the devil to you.

      1. His business is not to facilitate free expression. Little money in that.

        1. So he’s your first choice for the team blue nominee in 2020 then.

        2. I didn’t say it was his business goal, but it’s certainly a side effect.

      2. His business is built on data collection, it doesn’t facilitate anything. Especially given the fact that his group censors free expression of groups they do not like.

  7. “Guess what, you don’t have to be on Facebook.”

    Perhaps the most important point that Reason doesn’t fully develop – the increasing attacks on internet communication that somehow never make it or printed or verbal communications . Of course the latter 2 are specifically protected by the 1st amendment.

    You would think so-called liberals would be for protecting all forms of communication, but that ended with the concept of Net Neutrality and the right of the FCC to regulate that form of communication for the public good.

    The left has given up much of what at one time made it partly admirable – support for 1st amendment rights and having an anti-interventionist point of view on wars.

    Maybe that was all always for politics.

    1. It was. The only reason the left ever supported any right, is that they expected somebody else to be exercising the power to restrict that right. Once they decided they’d be the ones to pay censor, the 1st amendment just became another obstacle to their total domination.

      1. The Left was for free speech when their speech was suppressed. (Actually it wasn’t, they were just of the minority opinion). But when the Left senses that it might now be the majority opinion in the media and academia, they are suddenly all for suppressing the speech of others.

  8. The scandal to me is Obama’s campaign manager openly admitting that a Facebook rep told her Facebook was fine with allowing Obama access they wouldn’t allow for anybody else because they were on Obama’s side. If they’re giving the Obama campaign something they wouldn’t give anybody else, that’s an illegal campaign contribution.

    1. The revolving door at google was worse. But Google’s cool so we shouldn’t look to closely.

  9. This post has been pre-corpse=-f*cked for your amusement.

  10. You can even point out to the Left that Obama harvested FB data too and they just don’t care. They think this is the nail in the coffin that finally gives us Herself.

    Same with Putin’s election. “Obama congratulated him too.” “LALALALA not listening!”

    1. Yeah you can point out false equivalences all day long and they just don’t seem to take them seriously it’s weird.

  11. Nothingburger… I guess saying nukular would discredit someone faster. Grow up.

  12. People are shitting their pants only because the name “Trump” is tangentially involved. These people would shit their pants if the news said Trump helped an old lady cross the street. They would go apoplectic if it was reported he paid for some poor kid’s way through college.

    What Cambridge Analytics did is something that is done by hundreds of companies. Stop acting so surprised that the information you shared publicly with the world is now public. No one leaked it, you submitted it. Everything you do in public is public. It’s like some silly millennial bitching that someone outside their circle can see their pics of themselves at last nights drunken party. Well duh!

    I loathe Trump just as much as the next guy. I’m genuinely losing my stomach lining over him. But jeepers peeps, get a clue!

    Q: How do you know the media is blowing a story out of proportion?

    A: They went to press.

  13. “The very existence of social media and tech companies is predicated on mining data so that they, or third parties, can sell you things. That has always been the deal.”……….I don’t remember making any such deals with them.

    1. It’s right in the Terms of Service.

      1. I wonder if a good lawyer could invalidate most of those online terms of service on the basis that none of them are read (hence they can’t possibly be ‘accepted’ in any meaningful sense) – and none of them can be read if the companies allow an immediate checkbox to agree rather than forcing some sort of lag there.

        Probably not but that should be the case.

      2. Are the millions of children or vulnerable adults on social media allowed to enter into such legal contracts?

  14. Because, guess what, you don’t have to be on Facebook.

    That ain’t true. Yeah – if you were never ever on Facebook, no one is forcing you to join and give them your data. But if you were ever on Facebook, you can never ever get your info OFF Facebook. They have been allowed to commit fraud for a decade now and have profited mightily from that.

  15. An entire comment section of Hihn and Tony going off the rails. Cool.

    1. You’re implying they were ever on the rails. I need a citation.

  16. This is a “nothingburger” in the sense that anyone who remotely understands how Facebook (and other social media) operates now and in the past knows that Facebook is a privacy nightmare. It has always been a privacy nightmare.

    That being said, nobody has been coerced to join Facebook, and plenty of people who are informed about these tactics (that are shared by a wide variety of social media, not just Facebook) chose long ago to not continue using said social media. The Trump campaign has merely provided the panic button that the media is now trotting out, as the overall tone of Trump coverage provides an effective backdrop.

    And just like other media that generates all revenue from selling an audience to advertisers, with Facebook, you are the product. Facebook being free to use doesn’t mean you aren’t exchanging something for the service. Of course there is an exchange: your privacy.

    1. “This is a “nothingburger” in the sense that anyone who remotely understands how Facebook (and other social media) operates now and in the past knows that Facebook is a privacy nightmare.”

      CEOs don’t resign over nothingburgers. They resign over somethingburgers.

  17. I’ll believe that politicians are horrified of private companies gathering political intelligence… when they execute themselves.

  18. Really? If it’s such a nothingburger, ( a fine Republican Troll chant if I ever heard one BTW. Ranks right up there with ‘FAKE NEWS! FAKENEWS!’) .. Then why did Trump’s campaign pay $6 million, John Bolton;s PAC paid $800,000 and Ted Cruz paid $6.5 million? Not to mention the two California Republican candidates who were exposed this AM for paying for their services?

    That’s a lot of freaking money for a non-existent burger and fries.

  19. The best essay I’ve seen on this ” yea , so ? ” referenced Vance Packard’s 1957 “Hidden Persuaders” which I read when about 12 .

    Advertising is advertising . Nothing new here .

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