Facebook Data Breach: How do firms like Cambridge Analytica influence public opinion?

 BusinessToday.In   New Delhi     Last Updated: March 22, 2018  | 13:26 IST
Facebook Data Breach: How do firms like Cambridge Analytica influence public opinion?
PC: Reuters

By Cambridge Analytica's own admission, it uses a combination of predictive analytics, behavioural science and data-based advertising technologies to equip a company or a political party with insights on their target audience. Besides, they gather e-mail addresses, contacts and location of individuals.
They hire researchers, data scientists and even political operatives to then create campaigns that are hyper-targeted to these target groups.

For political campaigns, once the analysis has provided details of an individual's leanings, the campaign engages with the voter/voter group through direct mailers, social media push with specifically tailored visuals and language to alter the opinion. With help of behavioural psychology, it specifically targets those influencers who could alter the opinion of other voters as well. "...we will pinpoint the voters who will turn the tide in your favour, creatively engage with them, and drive them to the ballot box", Cambridge Analytica says on its website. Cambridge Analytica says it has worked on more than 200 elections across the world.

In some of the sting operations conducted in Europe, Cambridge Analytica executives have been caught claiming they make these campaigns unattributable and untrackable to avoid the links.

Such information, opinion 'infiltrates' the Internet without branding and without getting tracked to the political party. "We just put the information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape," one of the executives said in a sting.

Here's how Cambridge Analytica says it worked on the Donald Trump campaign of 2016:

"Cambridge Analytica provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House.
Analyzing millions of data points, we consistently identified the most persuadable voters and the issues they cared about. We then sent targeted messages to them at key times in order to move them to action. All of this was achieved in a fraction of the time and at a much lower cost than was spent by our rivals.

...teams included PhD-caliber data scientists, seasoned strategists with experience of presidential primary, congressional, gubernatorial, and international election campaigns, expert researchers, digital marketing strategists, and content creators.

They worked together to identify audience segments and implement a marketing strategy for fundraising, persuasion and GOTV (Get Out the Vote) programs. Targeted adverts based on our data insights were heavily tested, then deployed to the most persuadable voters in key battleground states.

We polled voters in 17 states every day, monitoring the campaign's progress in real time. Cambridge Analytica delivered daily reports throughout the final months of the campaign, using fresh data to track the shifting perceptions of voters. We polled 1,500 people per week in each state, gaining valuable insights that informed marketing strategy. The research enabled us to assess state-by-state reactions to any political event and to understand any unexpected shifts in voting intention.

In total we polled 180,000 individuals across 17 battleground states, online and by telephone. This information allowed us to speak to voters in a way they would understand and respond strongly to.

Leveraging data science and predictive analytics expertise, we built 20 custom data models that could be used to forecast voter behavior.

Every time we polled an individual, we matched their information with existing data in our database. Analyzing everything from their voting history to the car they drive, we identified behaviors that were correlated with voting decisions. These models allowed us to predict the way individuals would vote - even if we didn't know about their political beliefs.

Using these insights, we could place voters into different categories and determine the best way to influence them through marketing. Crucially, we could also identify which voters were likely to support Donald Trump.

The digital marketing infrastructure had to support all aspects of the campaign, influencing voters where and when it counted.

Our digital marketing efforts led to a large-scale operation with eight-figure ad budgets. We met multiple needs across the campaign, including fundraising, persuasion, supporter activation, and Get Out the Vote initiatives.

Collaborating with 30+ ad tech partners, we used our data infrastructure to target voters who could be influenced in the most meaningful way. For example, if they cared about healthcare, targeted adverts directed them to websites explaining Trump's views on the matter.

The marketing operation utilized a number of platforms, including social media, search engine advertising, and YouTube. As well as influencing voter intention, it inspired people to take specific actions. Donations increased, event turnouts grew, and inactive voters who favoured Trump were motivated to get out and vote on election day.

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