How Cambridge Analytica Patronized Trump Voters

Cambridge Analytica
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Thought Catalog / Flickr (CC BY 2.0) and Channel 4 News / YouTube.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Do Americans have the slightest idea of the extent to which they are manipulated? That seems to be the big and so far unexplored question as scandal continues to explode around Facebook and a UK-based data company.

The news is dominated currently by Cambridge Analytica, the data company that helped propel Donald Trump into the White House. It is in hot water this week, following reports that it harvested information from 50 million Facebook users without their consent.

New stunning stories keep coming from the UK’s Channel 4. On Tuesday, these revelations resulted in the suspension of the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix. Previously, we learned that top Cambridge Analytica officials, including Nix, were caught on hidden cameras discussing dirty and possibly illegal campaign tricks such as using beautiful women or fake businessmen to entrap rival candidates.

The secretly recorded videos, which you can see below, pull back the curtain on modern political campaigns.

More than anything, however, they show that the spread of social media, and the resulting reams of data that users willingly hand to companies like Facebook, allow campaigns to manipulate people into voting a certain way.

Here are a few striking examples of Cambridge Analytica executives caught by Channel 4 News as they boast about exploiting voters’ digital profiles in order to effectively manipulate them:

If you’re collecting data on people and you’re profiling them, that gives you more insight that you can use to know how to segment the population, to give them messaging about issues that they care about, and language, and imagery that they’re likely to engage with. And we use that in America, and we use that in Africa. That’s what we do as a company.

The two fundamental human drivers when it comes to taking information onboard effectively are hopes and fears, and many of those are unspoken and even unconscious. You didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you. And our job is to get, is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns. It’s no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually it’s all about emotion.

Cambridge Analytica staff also had even more egregious things to say, promising or implying all manner of nefarious undertakings, including the following:

We’ll have a wealthy developer come in, somebody posing as a wealthy developer…

[Second exec speaking:] I’m a master of disguise [laughter].

They will offer a large amount of money, to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance. We’ll have the whole thing recorded on cameras. We’ll blank out the face of our guy, and then post it on the internet.

Send some girls around to the candidates house. We have lots of history of things.

We’ve just used a different organization to run a very, very successful project in an Eastern European country where they did a really… no-one even knew they were there. They just drift, they were just ghosted in, did the work, ghosted out and produced, really, really good material. So we have experience in doing this.

We subcontract to them. We use some British companies, we use some Israeli companies. Very effective in intelligence gathering.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Alexander Nix (Web Summit / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

Please help us do more. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

Our Comment Policy

Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short. Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right to edit and to delete comments where necessary.


12 responses to “How Cambridge Analytica Patronized Trump Voters”

  1. Richard Robertson says:

    We will go down in history as the “Most manipulated people in history.

  2. MarkInBoston says:

    “They [Facebook] came to office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side,” Carol Davidsen, director of data integration and media analytics for Obama for America

    Davidsen said she built a database of every American voter by using the same Facebook tool that Cambridge Analytica exploited to amass information on 50 million users.

    -New York Post

    IMO it’s Facebook, and not Cambridge Analytica that needs to be under the microscope.

  3. Colin says:

    That is what certain persons want us to think, to distract us from their own deplorable lack of judgement.

  4. Colin says:

    That’s what certain persons want people to think, to distract us from their own deplorable lack of morals

  5. MarkInBoston says:

    I’m shocked. Politics is dirty business? When did that begin?

    Swift Boats. Who proliferated that narrative? No Cambridge Analytica necessary.

    It seems Cambridge University academic Alexander Kogan is the one who gave CA its Facebook data. A recent MIT Tech Review states: “Cambridge Analytica has agreed to a forensic audit conducted by a company Facebook hired, and Cambridge University is looking into Kogan’s actions.” That’s good news. A forensic examination will reveal if any laws were broken, or if it was simply a super-slick marketing operation.

    Speaking of the 2016 election and forensics, the DNC has, to this day, still not made their server available for a forensic examination into the alleged “Russian hack,” which was the genesis of the Russian meddling narrative.

    Regarding both situations, I quote the WWW staff: “Do Americans have the slightest idea of the extent to which they are manipulated?”

    Only with the forensics will we know for sure. The rest is just politics as usual.

    • William Stuart says:

      One could only hope for politics as usual. But setting aside who won and who lost, doesn’t it feel strange all around the country one year into the Trump era? I think the man is a criminal. Whatever. Let the facts speak. If anyone still believes in truth and objective facts, when Mueller is done we will know. I think Trump is ruining the country on purpose—so he can rebuild it after it crashes in his own image. I shudder.

      Still. Cambridge Analytica worked with the Russians and pumped their misinformation through the Russian troll farms in order to whip up a frenzy among targeted feeble minded Republicans. I don’t want foreign nations to have anything to do with our elections.

  6. Mugly Wumple says:

    It’s always been my contention that the Russians were just willing employees of U.S/Global actors.

  7. Chuck says:

    But, I thought it was the Russians who propelled Trump to the White House.

    • Russ Baker says:

      It seems that the Russians, Bannon, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, all played their roles. Plus a lot of trolls in the comments space!

    • MacKenzie says:

      Do you think Hillary tried the same thing? Also, how significant do you think the factors you listed were? Did they swing the election? Also a reminder that Hillary had plenty of her own scandals and that plenty of people who voted Trump probably were actually voting “against Hillary”.

    • anonymous says:

      Mr. Baker, how far are you and this increasingly disrespected publication willing to succumb to Trump Derangement Syndrome? The juvenile cartoons and tabloid writing style in the service of the Establishment’s need to blame anyone but themselves for the election are embarrassing. As the “Russia did it” story erodes, we see the blame being shifted to … gasp … computers!

      If this were 1818, and the election didn’t turn out as desired, would the WhoWhatWhy Staff be decrying newspapers because they “allow campaigns to manipulate people into voting a certain way”?

    • MarkInBoston says:

      That’s what I thought, too.