Saturday 19 January 2019

Political dark arts are nothing new. Why all the shock over data mining?

Our View

The only really shocking aspect of the current 'scandal' surrounding the supposedly 'illegal' mining of millions of Facebook users' personal data is the shock itself.

Avid but ill-informed social media users have received a long overdue lesson about the danger of publishing personal details - from the dreary minutiae of their daily lives to highly private information - on websites and apps that are accessible by everyone from their closest friends to governments, mega corporations and criminals.

Knowledge is power and anyone who thinks that these almost limitless sources of information would not be used for nefarious purposes is either naive or deluded.

First and foremost people must realise that sites like Facebook, Google and Twitter - to name just a few - are not run by philanthropists for the greater good of humanity.

They are multi-billion dollar businesses where the users are the product and advertisers are the customer.

Most advertiser supported networks sell user data to third parties, and have done for years. It is usually packaged together, stripped of names and sold to buyers who use it to tailor their ads.

It has been common practice since the earliest days of social media and it is the price we pay for using these sites for free.

Most companies and organisations that buy user data use it for legitimate and legal - if sometimes morally questionable - purposes. Inevitably, some do not.

The political 'Dark Arts' were around long before the birth of democracy and they won't be going away any time soon.

In the cut throat world of modern politics, parties, candidates and lobby groups will do anything in their power to win.

That is precisely what occurred with regards to Cambridge Analytica and their use of Facebook user data to assist the Trump campaign. What happened may be highly questionable but it is nothing new.

Furthermore, the researcher who first obtained the Facebook data for Cambridge Analytica did nothing improper. It was only when he passed it to a third party that he broke Facebook's rules.

Please note that. He broke Facebook rules, not the law.

Since President Trump's election - and the Brexit vote - stunned liberals have scrambled to find excuses for their humiliation.

It couldn't possibly be that arrogance led them to ignore, dismiss and belittle voters whose lives were torn apart by the financial crisis and who feel betrayed by the political elites?

"No, of course not. It must have been a conspiracy. Those fools couldn't possibly have made up their own minds and rejected their educated betters. They must have been manipulated."

So goes the argument.

There seems little doubt that Russia and groups like Cambridge Analytica did help secure the Trump and Brexit victories.

However, to imply that they were solely responsible is the height of arrogance. Brexit and Trump were an enormous political defeat for the left and a sharp rejection of all it stands for.

If liberals wants to return to winning ways they need to stop seeking conspiracy and take a long hard look at themselves.

Enniscorthy Guardian