Sunday 18 November 2018

Our fears over digital campaigning are misplaced

Don't believe all the hype and hysteria about Cambridge Analytica. The evidence just doesn't stack up, writes Kevin Cunningham

Facebook data reveals that per-advertisement Hillary Clinton's campaign received higher levels of engagement (stock picture)
Facebook data reveals that per-advertisement Hillary Clinton's campaign received higher levels of engagement (stock picture)

Kevin Cunningham

In the context of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a panic has developed about the potential for digital campaigning to 'rig' the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

There is a misplaced fear surrounding the efficiency of digital campaigning. However, the idea that Cambridge Analytica and their methods are a threat to democracy is not only extremely far-fetched but it is counter-productive to coming to terms with understanding the motivations of voters and current trends in Western democracies.

To explain why this problem is overstated, we must briefly explain this 'psychological warfare'. Cambridge Analytica's personality traits application amounted to surveying 300,000 people on Facebook about their personality, asking people to evaluate the accuracy of a number of statements such as "I don't talk a lot", "I seldom feel blue", and "I get upset easily". Responses to these questions enabled Cambridge to categorise people according to the 'Big 5' personality traits, namely Extroversion, Conscientiousness, Openness, Neuroticism, and Agreeableness.

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