March , 2018
Facebook, Data Analytics & Politics
16:01 pm

Buroshiva Dasgupta

The world is in turmoil with the leakage of 50 million personal data from the social media giant, Facebook, through a London- based political strategist company, Cambridge Analytica. It is said the data was used to influence the American citizens to vote for the current President Donald Trump. In India, the rival political parties are  also blaming each other for having links with the British company.

Using data analytics for business purposes is nothing new. In fact, the major revenue for companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and suchlike   comes from ‘selling’ the huge data they have collected from the public by giving freebies  like e-mails, whatsapp, ‘likes’ and emogies – though they deny selling private data vehemently. The advertising agencies, so long, had spent huge sums of money to conduct ground-level surveys to understand the behaviours of their consumers. On the basis of consumer behaviour analysis, they decide whom to sell what types of soaps and other toiletries, or cars, or other lifestyle goods. This is an age-old convention of advertisement agencies. What was new in recent times was applying this method of analysing consumers' behaviour to the analysis of voters’ behaviour. Political parties have been using advertising agencies to produce jingles, slogans, posters, and short ad films for their political campaigns. But using the rising science of data analytics to understand voters’ behaviour – and that too from the huge pool of data stored in sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google– is something new and sensational.

The earlier surveys of consumer behaviours were usually meant to study the ‘trends’ of collective or ‘crowd’ behaviour. But with the present data available with the social media, the data analysis can be as precise as tracking individual behaviour.  With data analytics, the political parties can now reach to individual voters and understand where he or she is likely to cast the vote.  Now this can be scary.

The increase of “fake” stories in the social media and ‘trolling’ by hired  groups or agencies is a  likely fallout of the application of data analytics in polling. We can almost compare this to the propaganda strategies adopted during the World Wars. Fake stories and trolling are, in a way, attempts to brainwash those who would not fall in line. The American media and research houses, at least, are analysing fake news closely and trying to get to the source. They are not far away from the political roots.

The link between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica - and allegedly through an innocuous app developed by a Cambridge University re-searcher (for academic purposes!)- has rung alarm bells. Facebook has apologised; the CEO of Cambridge Analytica has been sacked. But matters don’t end there. This link has already indicated what is going to come. Social media marketing has become the new trend of business and marketing. Data analytics will now be used more by politicians than businessmen, no matter how Facebook assures us that individual data will remain Intact and privacy policies will be tightened. Personal data has already become public. We have willingly parted with it.

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