Big data’s power is terrifying. That could be good news for democracy

Big data’s power is terrifying. That could be good news for democracy

George Monbiot

Has a digital coup begun? Is big data being used, in the US and the UK, to create personalised political advertising, to bypass our rational minds and alter the way we vote? The short answer is probably not. Or not yet.

A series of terrifying articles suggests that a company called Cambridge Analytica helped to swing both the US election and the EU referendum by mining data from Facebook and using it to predict people’s personalities, then tailoring advertising to their psychological profiles. These reports, originating with the Swiss publication Das Magazin (published in translation by Vice), were clearly written in good faith, but apparently with insufficient diligence. They relied heavily on claims made by Cambridge Analytica that now appear to have been exaggerated. I found the story convincing, until I read the deconstructions by Martin Robbins on Little Atoms, Kendall Taggart on Buzzfeed and Leonid Bershidsky on Bloomberg.

Read on…


4 thoughts on “Big data’s power is terrifying. That could be good news for democracy

  1. If your political opinions are formed and/or swayed by advertising you are a sad individual.
    I’m not on Facebook or any social media sites hence I don’t give a carrot for so called ‘expert’ polls and opinions or the trolls who infest social media forums.
    My answer to George Monbiot is; Get a life.


    • .Colin,
      Rothpol is a Social Media forum, and IMHO has one or two trolls of its own, and perhaps I am one of them.

      Whilst you may not be on Facebook, or Twitter, Instagram, or whatever, many people are, including that President Trump who believes anything that agrees with the views he cast in concrete in 1970 or so.

      ” President Trump on Wednesday indicated that he had no solid evidence to support his declaration that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on his phones at Trump Tower in New York during last fall’s campaign.
      Trump said he based his accusation, which he leveled March 4 in a series of tweets, on a couple of news reports referencing wiretapping generally.
      “I’ve been reading about things,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Channel. Trump said that after noticing an article in the New York Times and commentary by Fox anchor Bret Baier, Trump said he told himself, “Wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about.’”

      I haven’t read the Monbiot article, as yet – so I can’t comment on it but it is about so-called Big-data Analysis not about Social Media – and they are very much not the same thing.
      This may be of interest:
      Guardian pulls ads from Google after they were placed next to extremist material


  2. Introducing Blurrt on ConservativeHome
    As of tomorrow, we are partnering with Blurrt – a software platform “which identifies, collects and understands social media data in real-time”.
    In very crude terms, we will be able to use Blurrt to find out what people on Twitter are saying about current events. And since this is a conservative site, we will naturally be taking a special interest in what people who identify as right-of-centre not only say but feel about them (which Blurrt has the capacity to do).
    It also has the capacity to communicate responses “in real time”: on other words, it can track how people are feeling and saying about an event live. We will kick off Blurrt on ConHome tomorrow with the Budget. Whatever the future of discovering public opinion may be, I am very pleased that this new initiative is launching on the site, and look forward to seeing what Blurrt has to tell us. If you want to know more about it, please read what Jason Smith, Blurrt’s CEO, wrote about it last year on the Huffington Post.


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