Why the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal makes connecting with voters more difficult

Chris Wilson of WPA Intelligence reflects on why he thinks the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica incident makes it more difficult to reach voters.

Why the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal makes connecting with voters more difficult

CNET's Dan Patterson interviewed Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence, about his thoughts on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica incident. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

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Dan Patterson: There are those unethical companies that are now out of business, but social media is an incredibly valuable source of data. How do you extract information and convert the audience using that data in a way that is ethical and also scalable?

Chris Wilson: Well, you really don't. That's the key thing, and I think the big misunderstanding about what went on with Facebook, is that despite that fact that some of that data was harvested and utilized in a way to communicate to voters, it wasn't anything that was different than say the Obama campaign had done in 2008, 2012. You may have seen there was a lot of quotes from Carol Davidson, who was involved in analytics on Obama 2012 said, "Look, we did this, Facebook knew we did it, and what Cambridge Analytica was doing with that data was really no different." I think the difference was from a standpoint not the utilization of it, but was the way in which they obtained it.

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They obtained it in a way that was not ethical. Now, moving to today, they've shut all that down. So the ability to use data from a Facebook, from a Twitter, from a Instagram, from a Snapchat, or any other social media site doesn't really exist. To me, those have almost become like CBS. It is a manner for me to communicate directly to voters, and less a manner for me to utilize. Now, the data that people give to Facebook in their accounts would be invaluable and would make what we do, I think, far more knowing what kind of music a person likes, what kind of shows they watch. That would make, I think, politics and democracy far more connected to the individual, but also understand a lot of people that feels kind of creepy, and they don't want a candidate for office to have that information on them.

Now, what we do is we try and build online communities, utilizing things like applications, apps for your phone, or even through a Facebook webpage, that allows us to it, but it still doesn't allow for the leveled outreach maybe to those who wouldn't automatically join it, or download it on their own. I think that's a shame. I do think it's unfortunate, because Facebook has rolled back a lot of the ability to communicate directly to voters that existed before the Cambridge Analytica incident took place, that I think has made it more difficult to reach voters directly. Again, I think that is unfortunate, because I don't think there's anything more valuable for democracy than the ability to communicate to people individually.

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