Ask 100 people and it’s likely none would say they’re easily influenced or persuaded by what they see on TV or social media. No one wants to admit they could be the suckers companies bank on with their calculated marketing tactics.
In an excellent and highly engaging two hours, The Great Hack breaks down how Cambridge Analytica targeted susceptible voters to influence election results. It’s alarming, scary and an important wake up call that needs to be seen especially with a critical 2020 presidential election on the horizon.
Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer kick off their documentary recalling the innocent rise of social media, specifically Facebook as a means of greater connectivity. Whether through the simple act of sharing baby photos or a scrumptious meal, Facebook became one of the go-to methods of communication even for people who weren’t separated by miles and countries away.
As a result that valuable data mined through seemingly harmless polls or apps that go viral (what’s up FaceApp) could be used by groups with a more insidious nature than simply sending you a Best Buy or Target ad to buy that new TV.
David Carroll, associate professor of media design, began questioning how his data was being collected and launched an inquiry into his data rights. Carroll is a likeable and relatable figure who shares his concerns in an easy to follow manner.
Noujaim and Amer dug deeper into Cambridge Analytica’s role in Apprentice star Donald Trump winning the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically how the organization methodically found vulnerable voters they nicknamed “persuadables” — those who were undecided and therefore could be swayed to vote one way over another.
Those swaying tactics and clever slogans were the brainchild of Cambridge Analytica’s crack team who focused on the most persuadable of the persuadables in swing states that could decide the election. Voters who would respond to the propaganda who had no idea their social media footprint made them targets to be weaponized in aiding Trump’s campaign.
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Brittany Kaiser, the former director of business development for Cambridge Analytica, is a central figure in the documentary. Kaiser testified and shared valuable information on how data was collected, used and turned against voters to sway the election.
Initially, Kaiser comes across as oblivious and detached from her significant role in this scandal. The documentary provides useful information on how Kaiser previously worked as part of the Barack Obama social media team before her transformation to an NRA-card carrying member helping to give the keys to the White House to Trump.
Kaiser is an interesting figure in the story and arguably the most polarizing. She seems remorseful…to a degree, but her actions have a tint of someone doing major damage control. Carole Cadwalladr is an easier read as the investigative journalist for The Guardian who took interest in Cambridge Analytica’s role with Brexit, the 2016 vote that saw the United Kingdom leave the European Union.
She’s one of the heroes of this alarming story as she’s worked on various stories and held TED talks to get Silicon Valley bigwigs to be more accountable to their role in the use of user data.
Maybe the most frightening aspect of the documentary is watching the rise of Cambridge Analytica’s influence with smaller countries and election before tackling the U.S. and U.K. Cambridge systematically. There’s a dress rehearsal nature of it as Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix and his minions laugh at their efforts like the suited villains in an action movie.
When it’s his time to face the music during testimony hearings, Nix still finds the delusional audacity to suggest that he’s the victim. It’d be hilarious if he wasn’t so serious.
The documentary plays these events out with sharp editing and the same kind of eye-catching, high class graphics used in this psychological political warfare detailed throughout. It’s an effective storytelling method and helps keep the information flow from feeling like an overload.
Cambridge Analytica may be bankrupt, but as Cadwalladr questions, is there any guarantee that any election can truly be fair again? And if not, will the data mined be made available to users to prevent them from loading the chambers used to target them by the next gen data weaponizers? It’s a scary reality, but with The Great Hack helps to arm consumers with the same tools being used against them in enlightening fashion.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Netflix