The first time I read about how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to manipulate the 2016 US elections in favour of eventual winner Donald Trump was about 3 weeks ago.
At first, it was just the fascination of the whole affair that kept me reading. But along the line, it became chillingly clear that people all over the world could become victims too. This wasn’t just an American problem that had nothing to do with a third world country.
And then it was brought home to me: almost at the end of the report was about two paragraphs how similar methods by the same people were used to manipulate voter behavior in the 2007 presidential elections in Nigeria.
You must have seen the news by Nigeria News or heard about it somewhere that the Nigerian Presidency has set up a committee to investigate how some PDP top shots used the services of Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2015 presidential elections.
A different report by the UK Guardian had revealed how a billionaire supporter of Goodluck Jonathan paid almost $2 million to Cambridge Analytica. The job was to use data manipulation to influence people against voting for Buhari.
What was criminal about their method was the hacking of Buhari’s personal email to use as material against him in the campaign. This is not an APC propaganda.
The UK Parliament investigating Cambridge Analytica is already in possession of the files and contracts signed by both parties.
Have you ever wondered why some free apps want you to sign in with your Facebook details? Or why similar frr app asks you to grant them permission to access your Facebook account (and even post on your behalf) before using them?
Well, wonder no more. It is for marketing purposes.
Cambridge Analytica were able to do what they did because some respondents were paid money to take part in an online personality research. Part of the condition was to have access to each respondent’s Facebook profile.
This also gave the app access to the Facebook profiles of the friends of people who took part in that research without their knowledge. In the end, they were able to harvest about 80 million Facebook user profiles from the original 320,000 people that took part in the research.
Getting the Facebook data of millions of people is one thing. How to use the information is a different ball game altogether.
When you add a 28-year-old data analyst Christopher Wylie into the mix, what you get is the shitstorm Facebook is dealing with.
Four years ago, Christopher Wylie’s research proved that you could match personality traits to people’s politics. In other words, you could tweak information from people’s Facebook data to influence how they vote.
Christopher Wylie had the idea. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, was really interested in these things. And Robert Mercer, a Republican financier, had the funds to back it up. Their partnership led to what is known today as Cambridge Analytica which is at the heart of Mark Zuckerberg’s problems.
The phrase frequently used is ‘information Warfare.’ Basically, this means the use of information to target certain groups of people. As a matter of fact, Cambridge Analytica had used their algorithm to work out schematics for the US defense department, the Pentagon.
Their clients are scattered all over the world. And the revelations by Christopher Wylie since he turned whistleblower included how they held discussions with a Russian Oil company to find ways to manipulate the 2106 US elections.
In one instance, it was shown that Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks to help them publish Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Right now it is not in doubt that Cambridge Analytica played a significant role in the US election and the referendum that ultimately saw Britain voting to leave the EU. What is giving the investigators sleepless nights is how high and how wide the conspiracy goes.
Though Facebook stock is now recovering, at one point, it lost about a $100 billion in value in less than 2 weeks after Wylie came out. Mark Zuckerberg had to issue a public apology to all Facebook users and is right now in the middle of a grilling by a US Senate committee.
What the Cambridge Analytica saga has shown is simply this: when apps or companies offer you something for free to sign up with them, know that you have become a product to be sold to whoever needs that information.
Unfortunately, you can’t legislate for how your friends behave online. You could be doing the right things protecting your personal information. But the information you are guarding could be accessed from friends who are not bothered about securing their personal data.
Don’t expect anything solid to come out of the investigation instituted by the Nigerian government on how the PDP used Cambridge Analytica. It is likely most of the people in the panel don’t even know what is going on and they have no capacity to understand what happened even if it was rammed into their heads.
In the final analysis, nobody would be indicted. Money would be given and received in bribes. And no lesson s would be learned.
Remember, the first time the information warfare operation was unleashed on Nigerians was back in the 2007 elections. It was repeated in 2015. Chances are, somebody else with enough funds and a lot at stake would try to use same methods again.