Lessons and Questions Loom Over Facebook's Scandal
Millions of Facebook users’ data was shared with Cambridge Analytica which is known to have been affiliated with the Trump campaign, but its ties to Russia remain unclear. It appears that anyone who logged into the app “This is Your Digital Life,” may have been impacted by the scandal. Facebook now lets you check to see if you were affected. I checked my account and my friends and I were not affected. The photo below is a screenshot from my computer.
The app was responsible for mining data not only of the user but also of the user’s friends. The information collected by this app and others like it use our data to sell us things by targeting us specifically. I have noticed that when I am online shopping and log on to Facebook I will see an ad for that company in my newsfeed. Personally, I do not care because an ad for a specific product is not going to influence my decision to purchase it. I research everything I purchase, and I don’t rely on the manufacturer's description or an ad because they are trying to profit from me and are more than likely than not to be biased.
The Huffington Post states that “The idea that our personal information was used to influence the outcome of an election took this to a new level. It’s what made the Cambridge Analytica scandal so much more egregious.” The New York Times explains that Cambridge Analytica was “eager to sell psychological profiles of American Voters to political campaigns,” and they did so by using the data they collected from Facebook. Data that, according to the New York Times, were proved to be “improperly obtained from Facebook.” Where then does the blame lie? With Facebook? Or perhaps with Cambridge Analytica for knowingly misusing information? Or with Facebook’s users who wittingly accept privacy guidelines without reading them? I blame all three, but I place more blame on Cambridge Analytica and the users. I put the blame on Cambridge Analytica because they knew they were misusing the information, and I blame the people because they were given privacy conditions and they chose to agree. However, Facebook has admitted that it “hasn’t done enough to prevent harmful use of its own tools.”
The Trump campaign was without a doubt aided by this breach of confidence in Facebook, but political scientists agree that only a small percentage of undecided voters are targeted by political ads and that these ads must continue to be relentless in pursuit of their targets. Political scientist, Lynn Vavreck, a guest at NPR states that during the Obama and Romney election that, "The ads have effects ... but those effects decay pretty rapidly,’ she says. ‘So, if you're the Obama or the Romney campaign, one of the things you need to do is be consistently on the air. You cannot cede any part of the game to your opponent, because then those effects will start to accumulate.’" This information would seem to suggest that outcome of the election was minutely influenced. It seems to be assumed by the public that if this scandal had never occurred then the outcome of the election would have been different, which is not necessarily true. The Trump campaign mobilized voters that otherwise would not have voted. An article by CBSNews shares the same view as NPR, “With all the money and effort political campaigns put into advertising, do the ads have any lasting impact? Not really, according to [Political Scientists John G.] Geer [at Vanderbilt University]. ‘The current data suggests the ads have a shelf-life of three to four days,’ he says. Once the ads stop running, they are quickly forgotten.” If an election could be easily swayed by foreign countries purchasing political ads on social media, or whatever the previous medium of spreadable information, then we would probably be worse off than we are now.
Cambridge Analytica and the Russian connection is lacking in substantial evidence. Vox states that “We know only that there are many points of overlap…. We don’t know if the data produced by Cambridge Analytica ever found its way to Russians.” Upon doing my own research I am coming to the same conclusion. There are many points where the campaign, the election, and the Russians intersect, but there is nothing concretely linking them together. There is, however, ads that Russia bought on Facebook. The New York Times has compiled a list of ads, and the Washington Post dissects the posts to illustrate that they were not created by native English speakers. The same article from the Washington Post writes that “Facebook has said these ads were created by the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm in St. Petersburg, with the goal of influencing U.S. voters.” Academics argue that these ads are of little consequence in the election. The underlying issue that I believe we should be more worried about is that people are willing to take random ads and tidbits of the internet and accept them as truth.
In order to protect the consumer, The Huffington Post created a list of dos and don’ts for how we should interact with news posted on Facebook, which is that we should take the information with a grain of salt, unless they come from a credible source, such as a viable news outlet and or government body. The same article provides a list of practical advice to keep your privacy safe.
It seems odd that candidate Trump would argue that the media was against him, and he would use Twitter to condemn news outlets and describe them as spewing “fake news,” when the truth is that the “fake news” benefited him. Here’s an article from CNN that highlights that Facebook in its number one slot for reasons why Trump won the election. Except, Facebook did not enter ballots for individuals. More needs to be done to educate our people so that they are not susceptible to political ads and so that they do not use them for information; information which is heavily biased and decisive.
The larger question that needs to be answered is: what are we doing to better educate our people against fake news?
Follow this author on Twitter: @jrichardson1776
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