in

Was Cambridge Analytica’s psychological warfare used in Malta?

Political persuasion is fine, but psychological manipulation is vile

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix

This week Cambridge Analytica, as well as its parent organisation SCL group, announced that they will be winding down.

The previously unknown company hit the headlines after it was accused of acquiring individuals’ personal data improperly from their Facebook accounts and exploiting the data to manipulate people’s psyche and minds in the US elections which saw Donald Trump triumph and in the Brexit referendum won by the Vote Leave camp..

An important aspect of marketing is “Customer Profiling”. By profiling an audience, political parties can tailor the message they wish to communicate in a way that influences voters’ decisions and choices.

Profiling can be based on one or a number of criteria – age, gender, marital status, life stage, education, income, race, social background, thinking style, priorities, interests, behaviour, religious beliefs, political beliefs, etc.

Profiling requires data and the bigger the volume of data and the more accurate it is, the better. The amount of data that we exude on Facebook with the information we choose to freely give about ourselves such as the pages we like, the groups we join, the people we connect with, each post or comment we make, each post or comment we “like”, the people who tag us, the people we tag, the places we check in, the articles or videos that appear on our timeline etc., allows for accurate, razor-sharp “psychological profiling”.

But how effective is psychological profiling? In a study, researchers, armed with only 10 Facebook “likes” could evaluate a person’s traits more accurately than the person’s co-workers. With 70 “likes” they could do better than a person’s close friends. Moreover, studies show that armed with this information, the likelihood of success in changing a person’s behaviour by tailoring the message on the basis of the data is incredibly high.

The Guardian reported that: “The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University.

Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use. However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool of 87 million users.

All this information came to light thanks to a whistleblower, Chris Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica. He explained that with this information, a psychological warfare tool could be created by the company that can tap into people’s deepest fears, concerns, as well as aspirations.

He explained that with such a tool people could be psychologically manipulated at a subliminal level and that the tool can be used to literally dismantle a society and remould it.

Profiling of voters is an indispensable tool for political parties around the world and this automatically begs the question of whether Cambridge Analytica was actively involved in Maltese elections. So far we cannot tell for sure.

But what we do know is that more than 6,000 Maltese Facebook users had their data harvested. This is an extremely large sample size for Malta, suffice to say that political polls rarely take more than 600 persons as a sample size.

It was actually the largest sample size in Europe when calculated per capita. We also know that Cambridge Analytica had close ties with Henley and Partners, and also prospected for business with local political parties.

So there are several indications that Cambridge Analytica may well have been active in Malta, which would be nothing short of nightmarish. Political persuasion is fine, but psychological manipulation is vile.

CPJ urges Muscat to drop lawsuit against Daphne Caruana Galizia

Żażu’s challange stretches beyond the football pitch