Information Warfare + The Great "Hack"

Updated: May 5, 2020


- The Cambridge Analytica Doc.

- Social Media as a Weapon

- How Do We Move Forward?

“The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently.”

-Mark Zuckerberg

Intro: The Cambridge Analytica Doc

In 2017 Oil was dethroned from its position as the world’s most valuable asset… by Data. The magnitude of importance our personal information represents to the ecosystem of online business can be tough to grasp. I recently sat down to watch the Netflix Original documentary on the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook crisis. Being in the field of Social Media and Digital Marketing I was naturally interested in what had occurred and the resulting fallout that ensued from the situation. What I came away with was some knowledge on the magnitude of targeted psychographic data used across the world, a very entertaining 2 hours filled with dramatic fallout from the company’s members, and some raised eyebrows due to some of the “factual claims” made by the documentary. Alright let’s begin…

The documentary describes how the company Cambridge Analytica (CA from here on out) successfully used psychographic profiles made up by data collected from millions of Facebook users to help target campaign advertising for both the 2016 Donald Trump Campaign and the Leave Campaign in the Brexit vote. It didn’t stop there though, CA claimed to use their hyper targeting to help “influence” a handful of other national elections around the world in that year.

My takeaway from the overall doc was a somewhat biased explanation of the negative effects of Social Media targeting on election campaigns around the world. When I say “somewhat biased” I am not referring to the piece as taking the side of CA or of the people opposing them. I’m talking about the bigger picture of how hyper targeting, psychographics and social media can influence the public's opinion in such a way that it actually affects the outcome of the vote. And while I think it is a dangerous line to walk (more on that later), I do not believe that the results of the elections CA was involved in were determined or won by the work of CA.

In fact, CA also worked on the Ted Cruz campaign in the republican primary that year and well… we all know how that worked out. CA was also involved in campaigns surrounding Mexico and Istanbul in which the opposing party (left side) won both of those.

Social Media As A Weapon:

Now, where I begin to take an interest in the doc and where I believe Social Media can really start to be categorized as a “weapon” is when, like anything else, the power falls into the wrong hands. An example for context: Uranium is a hell of an element. So powerful that it can be used to power entire cities. But, when in the wrong hands and manipulated into the wrong form, Uranium is arguably the most devastating weapon on the face of the earth.

Social Media, hypertargeting, and psychographic profiling are all extremely powerful tools. Combined, they might be one of the most powerful tools on the face of the Earth right now. And as described in the doc, when in the wrong hands they can be devastatingly powerful to the course of a nation. In Myanmar, psychographic targeting was used to incite extreme radicalism against a minority Muslim group online and it eventually led to a mass genocide. Extreme but nonetheless an important example of the powerful effect it can have if used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Conclusion: How Do We Move Forward?

Whether it’s the Myanmar military or a behind the scenes alliance in Russia, it’s been proven that when the opportunity arises, the wrong people will indeed use these tools for the wrong reasons. How do we regulate this? How do we protect our information so that it can only be used for non-threatening purposes? Bottom line is how do we eat our cake and have it at the same time? Sure, we all love to share our information with the people around us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn but how do we continue on this path of connectivity while not rolling the dice of our information falling into the wrong hands? The short answer is we don’t. We’ve already opened pandora’s box on the information sharing situation and to be able to contain or control that would be like catching flies with a butterfly net.

We can not have our cake and eat it at the same time. What we can do is ask for the most important players in this wacked out scenario - the owners and developers - to do a better job protecting our info. If you look back at the quote from the beginning of this blog you’ll notice how in the originality of its creation, Facebook was made to bring people together. By allowing this type of activity to continue, it actually does the opposite and has recently polarized a lot of the conversation that takes place there. Divide and conquer. Do we continue to allow this strategy to unfold right on the screens in front of us, or do we take a stand and increase the barriers and transparency around the use of these powerful tools. “Bring the World Closer Together” -Facebook


Ryan Dewan