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How Cambridge Analytica sliced and diced Facebook users

Publish date: 11 April 2018
Issue Number: 1727
Diary: Legalbrief eLaw
Category: Privacy

The bitter truth buried in recent headlines about how Cambridge Analytica used social media and messaging, primarily Facebook and WhatsApp, to try to sway voters in presidential elections in the US and Kenya is simply this: Facebook is the reason why fake news is here to stay. In an analysis on the allAfrica site, Stephen Buckley notes that Cambridge Analytica got hold of data from 50m Facebook users, which they ‘sliced and diced’ to come up with ‘psychometric’ profiles of American voters. ‘The real stunner was learning how complicit Facebook and WhatsApp, which is owned by the social media behemoth, had been in aiding Cambridge Analytica in its work. The Cambridge Analytica scandal appears to be symptomatic of much deeper challenges that Facebook must confront if it's to become a force for good in the global fight against false narratives. These hard truths include the fact that Facebook's business model is built upon an inherent conflict of interest. The others are the company's refusal to take responsibility for the power it wields and its inability to come up with a coherent strategy to tackle fake news.’ Buckley points out that as repeated scandals and controversies have washed over the social network in the last couple of years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg's response generally has been one of studied naivete. ‘He seems to be in denial about his corporation's singular influence and position. Case in point: When it became clear in 2016 that fake news had affected American elections, Zuckerberg first dismissed that reality as “a pretty crazy idea”. Throughout the world, news publishers report that 50% to 80% of their digital traffic comes from Facebook. No wonder Google and Facebook control 53% of the world's digital and mobile advertising revenue. Yet Zuckerberg still struggles to accept that Facebook's vast audience and its role as a purveyor of news and information combine to give it extraordinary power over what people consume, and by extension, how they behave. All of this leads us to Facebook's other challenge: its inability to articulate, and act on, a cogent strategy to attack fake news.’

Full analysis on the allAfrica site