How Cambridge Analytica used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others to put Trump in the White House
To the credit of the team running the Trump campaign, they understood that mining the Facebook profiles of 50 million users could allow them to target the placement of ads and campaign events with surgical precision. The Clinton campaign was over confident and in the end, this hubris might have made the difference. In all fairness to the Clinton team, no one had ever seen a candidate for president admit to grabbing women's genitalia and not have it reflected in the polls. Still, it appears that the Clinton team took their eyes off the ball. More on that later.
A series of slides turned over to The Guardian by a former Cambridge Analytica employee reveals exactly how the Trump campaign got inside voters' heads. Keep in mind that according to the report published today, Cambridge is prone to exaggeration when it comes to taking credit for winning elections. The data and algorithms used by Cambridge allowed it to see instantly the effects of advertising it was placing on social media sites. Ads in regions of the country that were considered pro-Trump saw the candidate in celebratory mode next to directions to the closest polling station. The ad served up in areas that tracked in favor of Hillary showed famous Trump supporters including his daughter Ivanka Trump, one of the Duck Dynasty stars and UFC president Dana White.
The most successful ad run by Cambridge Analytica was one designed to look like a true newspaper report and listed "10 inconvenient truths about the Clinton Foundation." Appearing in swing states, this piece of propaganda ran for weeks. In addition, 35,000 Trump supporters were targeted through an ad on Facebook, Twitter, Google and music streamer Pandora, telling them to download a Pro-Trump app. A new form of advertising offered by Twitter was used to launch "conversational tweets" using pre-determined hashtags. Snapchat sold ads to Cambridge that allowed users to swipe up and see a fully loaded web page.
The Clinton team, whether not versed in this new type of psychological warfare, lazy, or just too over confident, could not keep up. And when Hillary's campaign had a golden opportunity, it threw it away. For example, today's report says that the Clinton campaign had arranged to run ads on Google’s video-hosting platform, but gave up the space. Google called Cambridge Analytica to say that the space was now available for immediate use. The Trump team quickly took advantage of this opportunity to run two different ads that appeared, based on the geographic location of the viewer.
Lastly, the Trump campaign used "persuasion search advertising" to put up pro-Trump and anti-Hillary ads on Google Search. Paying to have these posts high up on search results, Cambridge sought to control the first impression of internet users with ads saying things like "Hillary Voted for the Iraq War – Donald Trump opposed it."
It is important to point out that what Cambridge Analytica did with its targeted advertising campaign was not illegal, and was basically the same thing that every campaign tries to do with television and billboard ads. What is troubling were comments made on hidden camera by its CEO Alexander Nix about using women to put a particular politician or candidate in a compromising situation. Nix has been suspended by the company. Cambridge purchased this data from Russian-American ex-Cambridge University professor Aleksandr Kogan, who was allowed to use the data for research purposes only. In addition, by allowing Kogan to mine the data, Facebook might have been in violation of a 2011 FTC consent decree it signed. With the latter, Facebook promised not to give up user data without permission.
That Cambridge Analytica's targeted approach worked can not be disputed. How else can you explain the fact that Hillary Clinton garnered three million more popular votes than Trump, but lost the election due to 40,000 well-placed votes in various states?
It should be pointed out that those involved in the Trump campaign of 2016 claim that some of the images were generated not by Cambridge, but by Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale. And despite its success in 2016, no politician running for office these days will go anywhere near Cambridge Analytica. The company has reportedly been unable to find work with any U.S. campaign.
Check out how Cambridge Analytica's put Trump in the White House by clicking on the slideshow below.