This week, I went on one of those internet rabbit trails where you read an article which leads you to read more articles on the subject. The initial article was a NY Times piece about the way Facebook uses the personal data and shares it with over 60 other firms like Samsung, Apple etc. Reading the 1st article led to me a 2nd NY Times article about how the Trump campaign used the same technique to influence voters in the election. I read article 3 to understand if the Obama campaign started the process. Finally, I wanted to better understand Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, so I read a research study on the topic. Amazingly, Young Mie Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconson-Madison, saw what was happening on Facebook and set up a study that occurred during the final 6 weeks before the election.
Here’s my summary:
– Using personal data to influence voters has been happening long before the internet, but the internet gave access to lots more info than ever before.
– Obama’s gathering of data was the exact same as Trump’s.
– Both used downloading an app and a personality quiz to gather data and more importantly to gain access to friends lists to gather more data.
– Obama gathered 20 times the amount of data that Trump did.
– Trump outsourced the data gathering, while Obama did it internally. Obama asked permission to access the friends’ list. Trump bought the data from Cambridge Analytica, who paid a doctor to gather info the same way Obama did, only the doctor said it would only be used for academic purposes.
– Trump built off Obama on how to use the data collected.
– From the data Obama gathered, his campaign created fake posts/emails that Obama supporters would send to their friends at a push of a button. It would appear like an authentic message, but it was computer generated and targeted using the information taken from an individual’s Facebook account.
– Trump used the data he stole to build targeted Ads. (actually, Obama thought Trumps’ way of doing things was behind the times. In article 4 the Obama campaign talked about how what they were doing was way more effective than targeted ads like banners.)
– Back to article 1. Even after claiming they were stopping this practice, Facebook is continuing to use it, but only with companies they choose.
– Russia’s use of targeting techniques was part of a much larger conspiracy of unknown, mostly domestic groups using ads to target specific types of voters. There are lots of entities who post without having to identify themselves. In fact, Russia only amounted to 1/6 of the groups using Facebook to influence voters. What fascinates me is that when someone would click on the ad, it would take them to meme generator website. The ad did not lead to another site with more info on the topic, its purpose was to be seen like a bumper sticker, nothing else.
Questions I would love answers to:
– Why would society entrust Facebook to police itself when Facebook started the problem in the first place?
– What do all the other companies do with the data Facebook gives them?
– What are all the other social media platforms doing with the data they collect?
– Why would the Russians and other groups use Facebook in this manner? How does it work that people only see the headline and it persuades them?