The Great Hack: What we should take away

If you have  a Netflix account it’s likely you’ve already seen The Great Hack.  This near two hour documentary  details the Cambridge Analytica scandal and examines the wider issue of our rights to our data. For many Liberal Democrat campaigners and Pro-EU activists who have kept up with this whole scandal, what the documentary revels is not new  but it leaves us with a cause that should be a natural rally for the Liberal Democrats.  It creates a foundation for meaningful policy regarding the giants of Silicon Valley and how our democracy and use of social media can work in harmony with each other. 

The Great Hack hints towards a potential path for the party which links our belief in economic liberalism and property rights along with our belief in privacy and personal freedom. Currently the data which we willingly leak onto social media is just skin deep for the user but behind the curtain this data is valuable information for advertisers and campaigners to ensure that the ‘right’ advertisement on visible on your Facebook or Twitter news feed. Globally this can range from the harmless like a good deal for a tent on Amazon to horrific and extreme cases where military personal in Myanmar manipulated users  using Facebook to facilitate genocide towards the Rohingya people.

Every day in the UK we see thousands  drawn into arguments online  and very little room is left for compromise or compassion. To paraphrase Carol Cadwalladr, in an effort to connect people, these social media moguls have instead facilitated on driving us apart. This has allowed for a sense of invincibility of consequence to our words and a thin layer of anonymity where we dehumanise to an extent those we disagree with and pander to those we do. It is vital that the Liberal Democrats start to lead the charge on how we should be thinking of social media differently as this is now here to stay and will be (already is in some cases) a central part of our lives.

 To start we need to explore the idea of breaking down Facebook’s monopoly of social media as Sir Vince Cable has mentioned in the past. Even though since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke Facebook’s users took a very minor hit, those same users appeared to just simply switch to Instagram which is also owned by Facebook. Secondly we must be fighting now for a major review of our electoral law and its relation to social media especially after the Culture Committee expressed the current laws are not ‘fit for purpose’.

This second point is especially pressing considering the very real possibility of another snap General Election and what appears to be more data harvesting coming from the Conservatives since Boris Johnson’s election.

Finally we must press and fight the case that our data rights are our human rights and no company has the right to infringe upon our privacy and the trust we lend when we buy into their vision of ‘connecting people’.

Brexit’s legitimacy hung on a majority of 1.9% in June of 2016. This 1.9% is likely attributed to ‘The Persuadables’ who unknowing and without consent were subject to a manipulation and attack on the psyche in the last vital few days of the referendum campaign. As a Lib Dem in a strong leave constituency over the years of campaigning and talking with residents about Brexit some can’t remember what tipped them to vote leave, some play it off as something they’ve wanted their whole lives. Most was because their tired of the status quo and want a change and most of all. To be heard. I have listened and defended my position to the hilt and I believe if we’re to avoid anything like we have seen with Brexit and Cambridge Analytica again then we must get serious with our rights to our data or we shall be condemned to repeat history and allow ‘Fake news’ and fear drive the outcome of elections to come.

Data Rights are Human Rights.

* Joshua Hindle is the social media and press officer for Wigan, Leigh and Makerfield Liberal Democrats

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  • I watched this the other night – although I had to search to find it, which surprised me.

    As you say, a lot of stuff that those of us following the news will have seen before, but often with a fresh angle. I was shocked at how the approach to the Trinidad and Tobago election was handled and how apparently effective it was in manipulating the vote.

    Ultimately, this was about data rights, and while Facebook gets a lot of attention, people would be wrong to think that it’s just about Facebook, or Cambridge Analytica. The clever bit was finding ways to influence and manipulate people without them noticing they are seeing ‘adverts’ or anything associated with a political campaign. Most of us like to think we’re above such manipulation, and can see it coming, but the money spent in the advertising industry suggests even the most cautious of us are kidding ourselves.

    Advertisers and campaigners will always want to use data to target their messages, and there’s nothing wrong in that as such, but we definitely need much better transparency and to update our electoral rules for the digital age.

  • Hi

    The issue as I see it is, there will always be a sort of ‘natural’ oligopoly with regard to social media companies. I use both Facebook & Twitter, for different reasons:

    Facebook is where nearly all my family & friends are. If for instance it was ‘broken’ up I would probably see where the majority of my contacts were and naturally follow the flow. I wouldn’t want to have numerous different social network accounts to keep in contact.

    Twitter I use for personal interests. I have keen interest in finance/business news & issues, following the likes of CNBC, Business Insider & particular journalists and contributors. The same with politics, following as an example this site, politicians etc. I also have a keen interest in science/physics & follow institutes, NASA/JPL and particular scientists/specialists in their fields.

    Utilising these two sites I am able to tailor my interests between my ‘social’ life and my ‘personal/proffesional’ preferences. Again, if there were numerous sites I would still naturally gravitate towards a site that encompassed the majority.

    Another issue as I see it is cost. By introducing to much regulation, you automatically slam the door for any potential start-ups/smaller companies that may try to enter the market. The likes of Facebook & Twitter as established companies, have the revenue to employ thousands more engineers/people to analyse content & privacy.

    Finally, you are assuming that those who have the power to regulate will do so in a balanced way. As we have seen time and again, it is through the power of social media that bad actors i.e. Governments, Politicians and those that wield the power, have been called to account. I’m pretty sure that there are those who would rather not be put under the spotlight, who don’t see themselves as being ‘accountable’ for their abuse of power or double standards in their life.

    Overall I think social media should be held to standards within some sort of regulatory framework, but not so burdensome that those proposing it are also not held up to scrutiny and accountability for their actions. A very fine and nuanced line that will need careful consideration! 😉

  • John Marriott 27th Jul '19 - 12:20pm

    When the BBC launched its High Definition TV Service from Alexandra Palace in the mid 1930s some people genuinely thought that, because they could see programmes via their TV set, the powers that be could conversely actually see into their homes.

    Well, today, in the digital age of shared information, this phenomenon would appear to be true. I’m really proud if the fact that I have steered clear of social media. More fool you if you allow your private details to be shared, both legally and illegally with every Tom, Dick and Harry (perhaps we should add Dominic as well).

    I just stick to emails. They may not be totally secure; but I do feel that I have more control over them and they at least give scope to develop ideas, unlike such formats as Twitter. Mind you, I am getting on in years. I can actually remember writing much of my early stuff on a manual typewriter – and the joys of Letraset (?), scissors and paste on blue graph paper when producing my early FOCUS newsletters in the 1980s!

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Jul '19 - 12:40pm

    @Shaun Young
    ” By introducing to much regulation, you automatically slam the door for any potential start-ups/smaller companies that may try to enter the market. ”
    At present small startups etc are being swallowed by facebook etc. therebye enhancing the latters’ monopoly control and making it ever more difficult to regulate them effectively.

    “The likes of Facebook & Twitter as established companies, have the revenue to employ thousands more engineers/people to analyse content & privacy.”
    Since when did facebook care about users’ privacy?

  • The key point to me is the source of the money which is used to buy political influence. I noticed that our Prime Minister raised a record amount for an individual in his campaign to be Prime Minister. We also now know about the money which was spent in excess of the legal maximum by leave campaigners in the referendum.
    Until we can find a way of controlling the money being used in our political processes.
    How we can do this with social media I have no idea. But then for most of my life social media didn’t exist. I am still trying to find ways of understanding it.
    My starting point is how should we use social media to build a participatory democracy. Our party is an ideal testing ground for this. So how should social media be used by our party to make decisions within our party, and then to involve our fellow citizens?

  • Geoffrey Payne 28th Jul '19 - 8:25am

    I think this is a very good article, I certainly agree we need to take Leave supporters seriously in a way that many in the party do not.
    A few points however. I do not understand the context of the term “economic liberalism” as it is used here. If we can agree that tighter regular is needed here and is an essential part of economic liberalism then we can agree on that.
    You were also wise not to mention Nick Clegg given the word limits in LDV. You do mention Carole Cadwalladr and she has done a great job investigating this, but has been highly critical of his role as a lobbyist for Facebook and defending Facebook’s monopoly and their role in allowing CA to interfere in the EU referendum. As Lib Dems we must support stricter laws on the power of lobbyists.

  • We live in a world where all data is in the public arena and can be used to manipulate us. The response to this must be education so that we do not divulge anything that we wish to remain private. This has always been true when we talk with friends as we are constantly making decisions about what to share. The difference is the illusion that we are in our own private space when engaging on social media.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jul '19 - 8:13am

    Joshua Hindle: Watch out for the homophones!
    ‘Revel’ Reveal?
    military ‘personal’ in Myanmar Personnel?
    ‘facilitated’ on driving us apart ???
    because ‘their’ tired of the status quo they are?

  • All political parties will to some extent try to identify “persuadables” and send them targeted messages. That is what Lib Dems do when we canvass and then do street letters or targeted mailings.

    The CA/Facebook scandal presents two major issues – one is that if you could afford them, CA would do it precisely and on an industrial scale. That adds another level of disadvantage to smaller or less well funded political parties, and so undermines democracy.

    The other, bigger issue is the lack of informed consent. Some Facebook users were deceived into completing a survey that allowed CA access to all those users’ data, contacts and history, but worse still to the data of all of their contacts who hadn’t even completed the survey. Those Facebook users, and their unknowing friends, were never warned about how their data would be used.

    If I knock on someone’s door to canvass them, I tell them I am from the Lib Dems and they can chose what to discuss with me, or even to slam the door in my face. Any data I get from them is with their informed consent.

    Despite everything, these issues still haven’t properly been tackled (although GDPR is a step in the right direction), and Facebook’s multi-billion dollar business model depends entirely on profiling and selling access to their users data.

    There is a strong argument for simply banning outright all targeted political messages and ads on social media.

  • Nonconformistradical 29th Jul '19 - 4:01pm

    @Nick Baird
    “There is a strong argument for simply banning outright all targeted political messages and ads on social media.”

    How would you enforce such a ban? Especially when so much of it originates overseas.

  • “How would you enforce such a ban?”

    Facebook already knows who is placing political ads. I’m not proposing to outright ban all political ads on social media (advertising by political parties is legitimate) – Facebook and others could simply be required to ban fine-grained targeting.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Jul '19 - 9:13am

    @Nick Baird
    “Facebook and others could simply be required to ban fine-grained targeting.”

    Nick – I asked how would you enforce such a ban – not what specifically should be banned?

    Facebook has recently been fined $5 billion – please explain to me why they would not regard such slaps on the wrist as “the cost of doing business”?

  • If you could sell, say, $100m worth of targeted ads during a UK election campaign, but only $50m of less valuable untargeted ads, then any fine over $50m is more than a cost of doing business (it’s an actual loss maker).

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