Written by: Rebecca Curley MSc MPPA.
Big Data. To what extent is it impacting our lives? That is the big debate on Big Data. For Dr Jennifer Pybus it means she is being haunted by a Made.com sofa every click she makes on her tablet and laptop. For Donald Trump it means the once laughable Simpson plot became a reality. Big Data took him all the way to the White House.
The impact of using Big Data for Trump’s 2016 election campaign team was monumental. Like an Urban Myth, teams from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica slogged it out using the data of over 220 million people to transform the election. It is not known how many were in the room, or how exactly they shared the data captured on Facebook, but one by one, certain individuals were targeted and persuaded to vote for the golf-loving genius. Through Facebook advertising and the quarks of the site, such as finding look-alikes, targeting people on ethnicity and gender, people were hand picked based on the data the Project Alamo collected.
Dr Pybus saw the result of the election, heard the one about the social media gurus and the data influencers and became suspicious. Just where is the use of Big Data taking us? During her lecture as part of the Rethinking Politics in Data Times on Monday (15th January, 2018), Dr Pybus shared what she has found in the quest for why politicians need our data and the impact resulting in Trump, the ‘First Facebook President’. Playing particular attention to the three challenges of the web set by Tim Berners-Lee last year, Dr Pybus looked at the loss of control of personal data, the concentration of ownership and algorithmic practices. Such big data practices are facilitating the intensification and spread of misinformation and the need for more accountability and regulation around political advertising. She then sought to see how this was shown through the Trump campaign by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
The impact of the shock result and catastrophic ripple it sent through the world of campaigning, data sharing, data use and genius definition is being felt all over the world and on the internet. If it was that easy to influence the free world, imagine what companies like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica could do to the rest of it.
Dr Pybus, a lecturer in Digital Culture and Society at King’s College London, has researched the diverse ways our digital lives are being datafied and in this case, being used to persuade in politics. By looking at advertising platforms like Facebook and their work with companies like Cambridge Analytica, there is power in the use of data. Just like the cookies behind the Made.com sofa she desires (unlike the crumbs down the back of mine) data can track our thoughts, feelings and now our actions. Regulating this is a minefield. And not one that anyone seems to have mastered yet. And should it? Perhaps money spent looking at regulating should be spent on educating. If we wise up to how our data is being exploited then who has the power then?
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were not the only weapon Trump’s team used to power their way to the top, but with millions of dollars pumped into Facebook advertising it was perhaps the most powerful. And in this digital age it is one tactic for campaigners that is only going to intensify.
The genius behind Trump is the use of the data to influence. But the morality behind any form of persuasive politics is questionable. Replace persuasion with education and strip advertising platforms like Facebook of the chance to influence and we can go back to ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ pics of furniture all we want without interference or trace.
Either that, or pay academics more so Dr Pybus can buy the sofa and be cyber-stalked by a different home interior. Trump’s team took a fresh approach to politics persuasion and it paid off. Trump’s presidency has meant politics has to catch up with what the digital age can do. As we rethink politics in the data age this is one lesson to definitely learn from. Because Big Data is out there and it’s up for grabs! Take note Oprah!