Can elections ever be the same again? Has democracy broken?

1789 saw Americas first presidential election take place. Only white men who owned property had the right to vote. Fast forward 230 years and we are now reaping the benefits of living an inclusive society. The right to vote is a human right no matter your race, sex or religion, reflecting the great lengths our society has come to be democratic. 

The events that were to take place in 2016 would threaten our democracy and throw uncertainty towards our nations more than ever. June 23rd2016 saw the British nation be divided by one of the most polarised decisions ever made by our country, Brexit. From this moment forward, people were identified simply as leavers or remainers. Not long to follow was the election of Donald Trump, the president of the United States. The latter event confirmed the social trends that were to dominate our society for the next few years; racism, hate and division. 

To the naked eye, these two events may seem unrelated. March 2018 revealed to us that in fact this wasn’t the case, the common player in both being ‘Cambridge Analytica’. What is Cambridge Analytica? ‘Cambridge Analytica Ltd (CA) was a British political consulting firm which combined data miningdata brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during the electoral processes.’ (Source: Wikipedia)

In 2016 CA was hired to work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well as for LeaveEU, which was founded by Arron Banks. Arron Banks has close relations to Nigel Farage and generously donated to his political party UKIP. CA played a crucial part in both the American elections and in the Brexit Referendum, this is how they did it. 

There are 2.41 billion Facebook users in the world, 32.7m in the UK and 169.5m in the US. Facebook is the biggest social media network and is actively used by people on a daily basis. CA gathered detailed information through data traces left by users on Facebook, they claimed to have 5,000 data points on every single American Voter. Using this data, the company targeted users whose minds could be easily changed, or as they term it, the ‘persuadables’. They profiled people politically in order to better understand their individual fears and target them with Facebook ads and fake news. CA was to bombard individuals with ads and fake news that would result in a change of behaviour, with the end goal of making people see the world in their client’s favour. 

To illustrate here’s an example, I might have doubts about the future and quality of our education system. I would show this through a concentrated theme of liked pictures, profiles and various communications that I would have through Facebook. Knowing this level of detail about me allows CA to shoot their target. Hence if I were showed ads of an influx of people immigrating and putting extra pressure on our services than I would most likely vote leave, or vote Trump. 

The entire referendum took place on Facebook through physiological manipulation. No trail of the ads or the news is archived because only you, the individual, sees the information that is pushed through into your feed and then it vanishes. Hence, no audit on the quality or authenticity of the information can take place which makes it very difficult for an investigation to happen. In this essence, Facebook is untouchable. Only Facebook knows how many ads where sent through, how many people where targeted, which regions where targeted and how much money Facebook was paid for your personal information. Mark Zuckerberg refuses for the third time to speak to the committee which is investigating the effects that Facebook had on the referendum. 

Why are we so willingly giving our information away when the people who are supposed to be protecting it aren’t doing so? 

In Britain, we have a limit on the amount of money that is allowed to be spent on an election because it is illegal to ‘buy’ voters. At national level, a registered political party can spend £30,000 for each constituency that it contests at a general election. But social media has found a loop hole in these laws. Nobody will know how much money LeaveEU has spent on Facebook, Google and YouTube ads. 

Hate and fear is being spread across the internet as I type right now. There is a dark interconnection that is sewing us all together globally through social medias like Facebook. Our democracy is breaking and if we do not take control and understand the double edged sword that is the internet then you could be victim to this type of political manipulation. Our democracy is now highly dependent upon us reading our terms and conditions that we all so eagerly press agree to.

This was inspired by the documentary ‘The Great Hack’.

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