Trump hired company that stole personal data from 50 million Americans
Now supsended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. | AP

The steady stream of Trump administration and campaign crimes worsens by the day, with the latest Cambridge Analytica controversy exposing to the world that the Trump campaign hired a company that stole and manipulated data from up to 50 million American Facebook users in an attempt to change the outcome of the 2016 election.

Journalists posing as potential customers of the firm have released video of Alexander Nix, the now-suspended CEO of Cambridge Analytica, bragging how his company secured that data and used it to elect Donald Trump. (It was Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, who supervised that work.) In the video, Nix brags also about how he met “many times” directly with Trump to talk about the company’s efforts.

The other part of the scandal is the apparent complicity of social media giant Facebook in this attack on democracy. Numerous members of the press went to the headquarters of Facebook yesterday in Silicon Valley to try to question CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself but were turned away.

Zuckerberg, it will be remembered, had said last year that there was no way Facebook could be used to manipulate elections. He has since admitted he was wrong.

While reporters were knocking on his door in Silicon Valley, leaders in the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament were also demanding answers from Zuckerberg, who now finds himself embroiled in a scandal paid for and perpetrated by the Trump campaign. Trump’s people paid Cambridge Analytica to harvest a massive amount of Facebook user data which campaign operatives used to target voters with particular messaging.

This included the spreading of false news stories designed to encourage division and distrust along racial, ethnic, partisan, and ideological other lines.

In the UK,parliamentary leaders of the Conservative Party demanded that Zuckerberg himself appear before them to explain how this could happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. European Union representatives are worried that up to 500 million Facebook users there could be similarly victimized.

A former employee of a the Trump-affiliated data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica says it used algorithms that “took fake news to the next level” using data inappropriately obtained from Facebook. | Thibault Camus / AP

Sen. Amy Klobuchar , D –Minn., asserts that Facebook has known for years what Cambridge Analytica does and has failed to make any serious move to stop them. “Important questions remain about the role of these technology companies in our democracy,” she said during an interview with MSNBC last night.

The real issue is that in a capitalist system Facebook, and with it Google and Twitter, should have to answer the question of who is controlling them and for what purpose. This scandal shows the technology and communications giants can be used to thwart democracy. Zuckerberg’s claim that the fault lies with Cambridge Analytica alone for not destroying data it stole (Why would they?) is not at all adequate.

Facebook is claiming that Cambridge Analytica could have gotten the data from users unwittingly handing it over to them. Even if that were the case, Zuckerberg’s response essentially says that Facebook has no responsibility when it comes to warning users about the misuse of their data.

The scandal makes clear that Facebook and the other social media platforms are potentially much more than the great neutral avenues for exchange of information we all know and love.

What this scandal shows is that in an exploitative capitalist society, Facebook and the other social media platforms can be used to disseminate massive amounts of false information, stir up hatred and division, and manipulate elections. It does not serve society well when companies like Facebook are run by people so obsessed with the culture of corporate greed that they let others obsessed with that greed, such as Camcridge Analytica and Donald Trump, utilize them to destroy democracy itself.


CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is editor in chief at Peoplesworld.org. He started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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