Obama aide claim: Facebook was ‘on our side’ in 2012; let us exploit user data

Obama aide claim: Facebook was ‘on our side’ in 2012; let us exploit user data
Mark Zuckerberg and a like-minded friend

A lot of work went into a post by some research fool (who shall remain nameless) yesterday, demonstrating that what the data firm Cambridge Analytica was doing in 2016 was what the Obama and Romney campaigns did with voters’ online profile data in 2012.

Do read the post, if you want to assure yourself that the goals of the various campaigns and data-analytics firms were exactly the same.  You will see that the goal in 2012 was what Cambridge Analytica was aiming for in the run-up to 2016.  Numerous media outlets breathlessly celebrated the Obama 2012 campaign’s success in achieving it.

The New York Times, you see, has started populating a new Sudden Theme for us: that Muh Trump did something really bad with user data from Facebook, and there’s a whistleblower and a Big Leak and foreign influence and everything, even if, well, no laws against what anyone did can really be cited.

The research fool could have waited a day and spared herself a lot of work.  An Obama campaign operative from 2012 stepped forward on Twitter on Sunday night to announce that, yeah, in 2012, they were doing the same basic thing Cambridge Analytica did.  They were exploiting user data harvested via Facebook “friendships.”  (PSA reminder: Facebook does that 24/7.)

But it was cool, because Facebook was on their side. According to Carol Davidsen, people from Facebook came by the office after the 2012 election and said so.

Interestingly, this was even though, as Davidsen put it:

Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing.

In other words, the “tärgus” project described in Davidsen’s link was able to harvest more data than Facebook knew it was giving up.  That’s basically what was going on with the data-collection on which Cambridge Analytica relied (which was undertaken by separate entities and overseen by a researcher in the UK).

Separate but related point

Here is Carole Cadwalladr’s profile for the Guardian of data-escapade “whistleblower” Christopher Wylie, a 28-year-old from British Columbia.  I know; who wants to know more about some millennial data nerd who we already knew worked for an Obama campaign at one point?

The interest here is two-fold.  One, as Cadwalladr tells it, Wylie wants to put the “genie” of data exploitation for psychographic profiling back in the bottle.  He doesn’t like where it’s going.

It’s informative to note that he worked for the Obama campaign of 2008 – not 2012 – so he wasn’t present at the creation for the really egregious data-harvesting and psychographic profiling done for the 2012 campaign.  His perspective is more one of having participated in the roll-out of a similar capability elsewhere.  As with Carol Davidsen (if you read her tweet thread through), it came to feel icky doing that data exploitation.

Described as a pink-haired vegan, Wylie was “studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting” (where do I sign up?) when he came up with the data-harvesting plan that went on to become Cambridge Analytica’s most notorious source.

And that’s kind of the start of the second “fold.”  Wylie had an interesting reaction to Steve Bannon, of a kind I don’t recall hearing in these terms before:

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he [Bannon] was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

It goes on from there.  Look, as Ted Cruz would say: read the profile at your leisure, and ask yourself if Wylie is a cynical cooperating witness trying to smear “Trump,” or if he’s a millennial trying to make sense of the world, using only the Flintstone tools modern Western culture has winnowed itself down to.

NeverTrumpers have no idea what to do with this guy.  They just know he doesn’t look right to them.  A lot of Trumpers will assume, if he’s being used as a symbol by the New York Times, that Wylie is in the tank for the creaky establishment progressives — from both sides of the center — who run our big institutions today: the media, academia, government, politics.

I don’t think any of that is a valid assessment.

Facebook and data exploitation are not Trump’s fault.  But there are a whole lot of things that aren’t Trump’s fault that we still need to think hard about.

Our blinders-on view of a Trump/Not Trump cosmos is an amazing thing to watch in action.  As always, I will close by advising you not to think we need a government “solution” to whatever Facebook just did.  That’s how six-year-olds think.

Facebook may seem carved on Mount Rushmore today, but that just means it’s going to be Ozymandias tomorrow.  Be the traveler from an antique land instead: the one who’s there to tell the tale, and pass on what matters.  Limited government and freedom of speech are that traveler’s best friend (along with a trusty sidearm and a pair of Vigilance Binoculars).

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J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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