A former employee of the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica has stepped forward to reveal how the company harvested data from tens of millions of Facebook profiles and used the information gained to sway both the 2016 U.S. election and the U.K.'s Brexit campaign.
In a truly fascinating video for the Guardian, whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who describes himself as a gay Canadian vegan, explains how the company, headed by Steve Bannon and funder by billionaire Robert Mercer, used backdoor access to Facebook profiles to mine personal data. Collecting everything from likes to status updates to personal messages, the company then went on to use this information to create algorithms that would target Facebook users with fake news articles perfectly crafted to insidiously influence political leanings.
In a feature in The Guardian, which has been investigating Cambridge Analytica for a year, reporter Carole Cadwalladr wrote that Wylie described himself as "the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating 'Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’ ”.
Wylie explains in simple terms how this tactic works and why it is so underhanded. “Instead of standing in the public square and saying what you think, and letting people come and listen to you and have that shared experience as to what your narrative is, you are whispering into the ear of each and every voter, and you may be whispering one thing to this voter and one thing to another voter."
Wylie was studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting when he came up with the plan to exploit Facebook by creating pyschological profiles and then bombard the users with political ads. “We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he told Cadwalladr.
Wylie also commented on the implications of this practice could have for the future. "We risk fragmenting society in a way where we don’t have any more shared experiences and we don’t have any more shared understanding. If we don’t have any more shared understanding, how can we be a functioning society?"
Watch the Guardian's video below.