REGULAR readers of this column would know I write about a variety of important topics such as politics, economics and which music videos show Priyanka Chopra wearing a bathing suit. What you may not know is that I am also an advertising copywriter.
If you’re confused as to what a copywriter is, well, it’s simple; a copywriter is an industry term to describe a failed novelist who is forced to sell his soul to corporate overlords, writing bland scripts to sell buckets of fried chicken and cheap rum all day, and who cries himself to sleep each night engulfed in shame.
Got it? Now, by explaining how the advertising industry works, I want to explain how the Cambridge Analytica “scandal” is as real as the idea that you “think different” just because you own an iPhone.
Cambridge Analytica deliberately
marketed itself as ‘evil’
To understand the roots of this bogus scandal, you need to know about American hedge fund manager and tycoon Robert Mercer. You may not have heard about Mr Mercer, but odds are you have heard about a certain US president named Donald Trump.
Mr Mercer has a record of financially backing Republican presidential candidates and causes. And in 2016, when Mr Trump was running his “completely self-funded campaign”, he courted Mr Mercer and his millions. And it worked. Mr Mercer gave money to Trump’s political super PACs. To show his appreciation, Mr Trump hired the little known British data and political consulting firm which Mr Mercer partly owned, Cambridge Analytica (CA).
When Mr Trump won the election and the whole world began questioning if there was a hole in the fabric of space and time, CA’s CEO Alexander Nix seized the opportunity for some shameless self-promotion and began publicly suggesting Mr Trump’s success was all down to his diabolical computer workings. And not the red baseball caps Trump’s campaign reportedly spent most of their money on. The paranoid anti-Trump media who were already desperately looking for a nefarious angle in which to frame the 2016 US election ate up all of Nix’s exaggerations without questioning any of it.
is a generic marketing firm
If you listen to Alexander Nix or “wistleblower” Christopher Wylie, you may get the impression that CA is something straight out of the X-Men. They talk of a company being able to “hack people’s minds” and conducting mass “psychological experiments”. Christopher Wylie’s new book is even called Mindf*ck. You would swear Robert Mercer lives on his own asteroid and can control metal with his mind.
But here’s the thing—all advertising agencies love to tell clients they are better than the other because they have some cutting edge way of working. It’s called a Unique Selling Position (USP). CA’s USP was to pretend to be Bond villains.
The truth is CA was running an ordinary run-of-the-mill online marketing campaign for Trump. And the kind that CA most likely did in T&T as well.
acquired its data legally
For a company that sells itself as a cross between the movies Scanners and The Matrix, the truth of how CA acquired its data in its now infamous Facebook data breach is comical.
It went like this. A data scientist at Cambridge University named Aleksandar Kogan took an app he created called “This is your digital life” to CA. CA then devised a way Kogan could collect data by using social media quizzes. What kind of quizzes, you ask? Do you remember back in 2015 when “What kind of chow are you?” was all the rage on Facebook. Well that allowed third parties to legally collect your data.
Except for Kogan. A flaw in Facebook’s design meant he didn’t just collect the data from users who chose to participate, but also those within the users’ social network as well. So this “data breach” was not the result of some kind of “psychological weapon” by CA, but due to Facebook’s faulty design.
Nothing Cambridge Analytica says it did in T&T makes any sense
Trinis more than anyone should be smelling the nonsense CA is trying to sell. Wylie has tried to use its work here to push the evil Bond villain narrative, but like the last Bond movie, this narrative makes no sense.
First of all, the idea that the “Do So” campaign used by the People’s Partnership government in 2010 was an attempt to “suppress young black voters”, as Wylie claims, is ridiculous.
“Do So” started after an elderly man stopped the then-prime minister from entering his premises. The imagery of the crossed hands was used primarily on posters, not the Internet. In any case, how did this suppress black voters?
Also, the PNM was in government in 2010. How could the UNC/COP/MSJ whoever get their hands on mass data controlled by State agencies?
In 2015, when the People’s Partnership used a subsidiary of CA, they went on to lose the elections easily. How does that happen to a company that claims to be able to hack into people’s minds? Did the PNM have Professor X running its campaign?
As National Review Magazine described it: the CA scandal is a giant nothing burger. It’s fake news. Which makes it all the more ironic that it’s being used during an election campaign.
• Darryn Boodan is
a freelance writer