Facebook Data image retrieved from cnn.com
Did Cambridge Analytica use Facebook user data to influence the 2016 Presidential Election?
I found this particularly interesting because of the controversies surrounding the 2016 US presidential election. One of which is the role social media networks like Facebook and Twitter played in distributing damaging content. I am a digital marketing specialist and I spend a lot of time on social media for marketing and advertising purposes.
What happened to Facebook and Cambridge?
Facebook was recently under scrutiny for the role it played in spreading ‘fake news’ and hosting thousands of fake Russian linked accounts. So many founded and unfounded accusations effectively and successfully assisted Russia to execute political propaganda campaigns during the 2016 election. Facebook has an advertising feature in place that enables marketers select their audience by certain qualities. But Facebook does not typically share this information with marketers. In this case, a data firm called Cambridge Analytica, which is directly linked to the Trump campaign and influential right-wing conservatives Robert Mercer and Stephen Bannon, had access to approximately 87 million Facebook user data. One of its researchers created a quiz app that was installed by approximately 300,000 Facebook users. This app, among others had access to not just the Facebook profile of the users who downloaded the app, it had access to users on their friends list as well.
Did Facebook and fake news influence the 2016 US Presidential election?
Facebook user data which was, at the time, rightfully obtained per Facebook’s policy, was illegally shared with third parties. This enabled data firms like Cambridge Analytica, segment these users by interest, religious affiliation, party affiliation, etc. They created a psychological profile of voters which enabled them customize political content and promote these contents to these users, which may have preyed on their vulnerability and tainted their perception of one or more of the 2016 presidential candidates. Researchers believe that these events influenced many US user’s voting decisions.
How did CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg respond to this allegation?
This issue was made public during the weekend, but it took Mark Zuckerberg a few days to respond. This caused a lot of uproar and an approximately 10% decline in stock prices.
What should have been done differently?
Zuckerberg’s response violated one of the common-sense rules of PR and crisis management, that is, respond quickly. When an accusation or controversy like this goes public, the company should not let it fester. Even if more investigation and information is required to make a definite statement, do not stay silent. The public is looking for answers and staying silent will cause them to seek answers elsewhere. The theory of ‘demand dictates supply’ applies to news and information as well. In this case, several theories made their way to the media which, like I stated earlier, caused a decline in Facebook stock, a call for Mark’s resignation, and some users deleting their profiles and calling for a boycott.
What steps will Facebook take to resolve this issue and prevent a recurrence?
Mark Zuckerberg promised to prevent a recurrence and limit the type of user information third party apps have access to. They will also limit what information users voluntarily share with third party questionnaires and the public through their Facebook profile. Facebook will notify the 87 million users whose accounts were affected, once they’re identified.