In March of 2018, Channel 4’s sting operation on the chief people at helm at Cambridge Analytica opened a Pandora’s Box and sent seismic waves throughout the online world, the aftershocks of which the world is still reeling from.
Alexander Nix, CEO of the now defunct company, boasted of how their company used all sorts of duplicitous and unscrupulous methods to sway the voters in several countries. The Great Hack guides us through this deep rabbit hole and exposes the level to which a few key people and companies have weaponised data to wage a PSYOP (the documentary explains what that is) war in the digital world.
The narration takes place through the perspective of three protagonists; Professor David Caroll who is using UK’s law to reclaim his data held by Cambridge Analytica and two whistleblowers, ex-employees, who come to terms with their own guilt and set out to right the wrongs they have made in their careers. Also in focus is the role Facebook played in giving a platform to Cambridge Analytica to mine its users’ data through not only advertising but quizzes and apps and how much of the mining was without the consent of the user.
If you have not been following the story, your mind will be blown and I think only very few regular users of the Internet by now have an inkling of how social media can be used as a source of disinformation and bias confirmation tactics to spread propaganda.
The Great Hack does a great job of explaining the role played by institutions to brainwash public opinion but one can feel a one-sided and liberal bias in the documentary. The two major events shown are the 2016 Trump victory and Brexit and in both the cases the conservatives triumphed.
Cambridge Analytica does not need to change the minds of everyone but only a select few who are still undecided, christened as “the persuadables”, who can basically decide the result. What the film tries to imply is that Cambridge Analytica’s services could have been the decider in the outcome of the two results and that argument is not entirely convincing. Data breach is a serious issue but on platforms like Facebook where people willingly give out their information, how much of it is taken with or without approval is something that is not made clear.
The film also portrays the personal arc of Brittany Kaiser, perhaps the chief whistleblower, and her journey of redemption. Her past as an Obama campaign worker is brought up again and again to bring home the liberal view of how corrupt the system has become.
Cambridge Analytica spread its fangs across several nations and a small episode about Trinidad’s election is quite amusing.
Regardless of how one views the tone of the film, this is a must watch because a significant chunk of the world population needs to be educated on the harmful effects of data misuse. Hopefully, we can see a documentary in the future about the role of Whatsapp in Indian elections.
[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are his own and do not represent that of the web portal]