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The Cambridge Analytica Furor: Partisan Hype or Genuine Scandal?

Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign copied tactics from the Obama campaign's playbook. Should that change how we view the supposed Facebook scandal?

Senators and members of Congress wondering what to ask the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, when he turns up Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to testify on Capitol Hill might try this one: "How is what Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign did with Facebook data in 2016 any different from what the Obama campaign did in earlier years?"

Zuckerberg's answer would be useful in sorting out how much of the election-related Facebook furor is partisan hype, and how much is a genuine scandal.

The parallels between the Trump campaign's use of Facebook data and the Obama campaign's have already drawn some press attention. The Washington Post reported, "in 2011, Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America, built a database of every American voter using the same Facebook developer tool used by Cambridge."

The Post reported, "any time people used Facebook's log-in button to sign on to the campaign's website, the Obama data scientists were able to access their profile as well as their friends' information."

"We ingested the entire U.S. social graph," the Post quoted Davidsen as saying. "We would ask permission to basically scrape your profile, and also scrape your friends, basically anything that was available to scrape. We scraped it all."

A Richmond-Times Dispatch editorial observed, "Back then, the media gushed over how brilliantly the Obama campaign had mastered social media. Privacy concerns rarely got raised. …Nobody seemed to be much troubled by this until team Trump did the same thing."

For an example of the gushing genre, consider a 2012 Guardian article about the Obama campaign's digital effort. "The significance of the fusion of Facebook and voter file data is hard to overemphasise…. the campaign can distribute customised content designed specifically for its Facebook fans to share with their much wider circle of friends. The messages can be honed to a particular demographic, age, gender, etc—as well as set of interests, and targeted on the most hotly contested parts of the most crucial battleground states."

The Guardian reported that when Obama volunteers used Facebook to login to the Obama campaign website, "Consciously or otherwise, the individual volunteer will be injecting all the information they store publicly on their Facebook page—home location, date of birth, interests and, crucially, network of friends—directly into the central Obama database."

President Obama's 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, tweeted that it was "misleading" to conflate the Obama 2012 and Trump 2016 use of Facebook data. "The '12 campaign told voters what they were sharing and for what purpose," he tweeted, in a comment that was retweeted by Joe Rospars, the chief digital strategist of the Obama campaigns and the founder and CEO of Blue State Digital.

The "consciously or otherwise" phrase in the Guardian article suggests that if the Obama volunteers were told about how their data would be used, they might not have been that focused on the details of it. And the key issue, anyway, isn't what the Obama volunteers were told, but what, as the Guardian article put it, "crucially," their network of friends were told. Facebook was allowing marketers to access the data not only of consenting campaign volunteers, but, "crucially," of the friends of those volunteers, who may have been undecided voters and who probably didn't even know that their data had been sucked into some campaign database.

A Wired article explained, "Back then, Facebook was a digital darling — but the idea that it allowed third parties to access people's data without their direct consent now seems ludicrous."

Writing at Forbes, Kalev Leetaru notes that the 2016 Ted Cruz campaign used the same Cambridge Analytica data and did not win the presidential nomination. Leetaru wonders, "Could it be that the public is suddenly worried about Facebook's influence because they see it as the only possible explanation for an election they cannot otherwise understand?"

That would be another fine question for some senator to put to Zuckerberg.

Photo Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari/Chameleons Eye/Newscom

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  • Just Say'n||

    "Back then, the media gushed over how brilliantly the Obama campaign had mastered social media. Privacy concerns rarely got raised. …Nobody seemed to be much troubled by this until team Trump did the same thing."

    That's whataboutism or so I've been told by the most ignorant among us

  • Just Say'n||

    Go on....

  • DenverJ||

    Pretty sure it's 1099 work. And you have to supply your own knee pads.

  • JWatts||

    "That's whataboutism or so I've been told by the most ignorant among us"

    LOL, yes there's a meme to use whataboutism whenever a valid comparison comes up. Just for the record whataboutism is bringing up a completely unrelated topic.

    IE. "A Critic: Hey USSR, you just exterminated 12 million Ukranian's." "USSR: Who care's? The US has Jim Crow laws."

  • Just Say'n||

    "Just for the record whataboutism is bringing up a completely unrelated topic."

    Except that it is literally never used that way whatsoever. This is how it is often employed:

    Totally Sane Person: OMG- Trump is just doing whatever Putin wants right now

    Person Who Won't Blindly Accept Narrative: I mean, he's been tougher on Russia than President Obama- he's armed Ukraine and he's reestablished the nuclear shield in eastern Europe. To be fair, I liked President Obama's engagement policies better, but there is no way that the media or Democrats would allow Trump to pursue the same policy

    Totally Sane Person: Obama isn't president anymore. Whataboutism!

    Person Who Won't Blindly Accept Narrative: What? I was just pointing out how your assertion that Trump is doing whatever Putin wants is just simply not true

    Totally Sane Person: Whatever, you're a Russian bot

  • DenverJ||

    The "Russian bot" thing is my favorite. Apparently, the entire internet is Russian bots. Related is the idea that people are posting for money. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, people are stupid. Oh, I also like how old people print columns they like in some weird world view that it makes it more real if it's printed on paper. Or maybe they just don't know how to bookmark.

  • gah87||

    I'm so old I impress my favorite articles in cuneiform on clay tablets.

  • JH1776||

    "they" care about this but don't give a whit about the credit reporting agencies' means and methods. Pure theater.

  • Tony||

    Did the Obama campaign coordinate with the Russian government in its data mining operation? They keep telling Mueller to stick to the point--that's the point.

  • Just Say'n||

    So you're saying that Cambridge Analytica coordinated with the Russians? Are you OK?

  • Tony||

    So OK is being fine with a single wealthy family (the one that owns CA) hand-picking our next president with the help of a foreign adversary. How much was witting or unwitting will be what the lawyers sort out. Maybe psychiatrists too.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Do you believe what you just wrote?

  • Just Say'n||

    "So OK is being fine with a single wealthy family (the one that owns CA) hand-picking our next president with the help of a foreign adversary."

    Yes! Now throw out there some Koch crazy fever dreams too. These are totally not crazy things to say.

    You are aware that the wealthy preferred Clinton over Trump, right? It was the Left's much beloved working class that delivered Trump the election, which I find to be delicious

  • The Inappropriate Comedy Tree||

    Since when does the left love the working class? All I've seen is that they profess to be on the side of workers, but then go all Arthur Kirkland about them whenever workers don't blindly follow their commands.

  • Just Say'n||

    "So you're OK with the Kochs basically owning the Republican House of Representatives and literally killing people. Literally drinking the blood of immigrant children and then stomping on the faces of elderly people. All so they don't have to pay taxes."

    - What I Hope Tony Will Say

  • Tony||

    Trump's voters were wealthier actually. Stop perpetuating lies meant to help that charlatan. Two-thirds of his voters in the top 50% of wealth.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Don't poor people disproportionately not vote.

  • gah87||

    They should be allowed to sell their votes on Backpage to earn extra cash.

  • XM||

    Most Trump voters were wealthy, but Clinton won more college educated crowd and lower income people.

    Which means "college educated" means mostly nothing. If you're willing to take on tons of debt, you can be college educated.

  • JesseAz||

    Since when do we use the top 50%? What happened to 5% or 1%?

  • The Inappropriate Comedy Tree||

    So OK is being fine with a single wealthy family (the one that owns the DNC) hand-picking our next president and weeding out Democrat competition. How much was superdelegates or not superdelegates will be what the lawyers sort out. Maybe psychiatrists too.

  • Mark22||

    So OK is being fine with a single wealthy family (the one that owns the DNC) hand-picking our next president and weeding out Democrat competition.

    Honey, dearest, despite your little fascist pipe dreams, in the US, it's still the American voters who pick presidents. And American voters were pissed off at the wealthy families that were trying to manipulate them: the Clintons, Soros, Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Bezos, etc.

  • silver.||

    Wowzas

  • Cynical Asshole||

    My sentiments exactly. He's becoming more unhinged by the day. Soon he'll be yelling at clouds.

  • DenverJ||

    Hey, you dumbass, from the fucking article: "Writing at Forbes, Kalev Leetaru notes that the 2016 Ted Cruz campaign used the same Cambridge Analytica data and did not win the presidential nomination. "

  • Mark22||

    Did the Obama campaign coordinate with the Russian government in its data mining operation?

    What difference does it make? Democrats have been in the pocket of the Russian government for most of the Cold War.

  • croaker||

    The hard questions won't be asked. 85% of the committee received campaign contributions from Facebook, including the chair.

  • Mark22||

    They aren't so much concerned about their campaign contributions, they are concerned by being eliminated from the political scene using Facebook's and Google's algorithms.

  • ||

    I'm commenting on Hit & Run in order to buy sex.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I'm asking you, FOSTA/SESTA!

  • The Inappropriate Comedy Tree||

    I'm hitting on Run & Buy in order to sex comments.

    Anybody got a problem with that? I'm asking you, Quixote!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    A Wired article explained, "Back then, Facebook was a digital darling — but the idea that it allowed third parties to access people's data without their direct consent now seems ludicrous."

    It's their entire business model and has consistently been so. It's also Google's.

  • DenverJ||

    So you link to the full article in the word "writes", and then two words and one punctuation mark later link to it again.
    That's very wasteful of links. Haven't you guys heard of global warming?

  • gah87||

    It's tragic. All those squandered leptons floating out to sea in the gyre to be consumed by unsuspecting sea life.

  • Flinch||

    It's neither hype nor scandal where Cambridge Analytica is concerned - FB worked as designed! The only thing scandalous is our media, and its insistance that Zuckerberg needs to be hammered for not behaving in some kind of fascist overlord mode the way other sites do. How dare a non-democrat machine operation copy... Obama?

  • FlameCCT||

    This is how my info ended up with the Obama campaign and my receiving numerous campaign calls from them. They kept telling me that I showed as a Democrat while it was a friend that was a Dem voter.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    And that's what you get for being Facebook friends with Tony.

  • Longtobefree||

    In true fascist action, I call on the federal government to ban all advertising on all social media platforms.
    Like the logical and reasonable action of taking control of both the healthcare industry, and the healthcare insurance industry, only a central government can assure fair use of social media. Advertising just benefits the evil rich corporations; it does not help the downtrodden babbling posters at all. All of the valuable bandwidth taken by advertising should go to the poor subscribers for use in additional posting of cat videos, and ranting about the evils of the bill of rights. In addition, all social media platforms are forbidden from collecting any data whatsoever from their subscribers. A small fee should cover the costs of a few pipes to shuttle ones and zeros back and forth. In the unlikely event that a small fee inconveniences anyone, we can establish a simple and efficient federal 'department of babbling' to cover their costs.

  • pemaintoto||

    Mereka harus diizinkan untuk menjual suara mereka di halaman belakang untuk mendapatkan uang ekstra

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