Originally Posted: March 23, 2018
Victoria Farrar-Myers, quoted below in the March 23 article from Phys.org, is the Director of the Tower Scholars Program.
The use of Facebook data to target voters has triggered global outrage with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But the concept is nothing new: Barack Obama made extensive use of the social network in 2008 and stepped up “micro-targeting” in his 2012 re-election effort.
The unauthorized gathering of data on 50 million Facebook users by a British consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump has sparked intense debate on how politicians and marketers—appropriately or not—use such personal information.
But Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the center of the firestorm, has stressed it is far from alone in using data gleaned online to precisely target voters.
“Obama’s 2008 campaign was famously data-driven, pioneered micro-targeting in 2012, talking to people specifically based on the issues they care about,” the British firm said on Twitter.
Former members of the Obama team fiercely dispute any comparison to the Cambridge Analytica case, in which an academic researcher is accused of scooping up a massive trove of data without consent using a Facebook personality quiz, and transferring it improperly to the firm.
“How dare you!” tweeted Michael Simon, who headed Obama’s micro-targeting team in 2008, in response to the firm.
“We didn’t steal private Facebook profile data from voters under false pretenses. OFA (Obama’s campaign) voluntarily solicited opinions of hundreds of thousands of voters. We didn’t commit theft to do our groundbreaking work.”
Jeremy Bird, a member of the 2012 Obama team, echoed those sentiments, warning: “Do not use the Obama campaign to justify your shady business.”
But while Cambridge Analytica’s methods for acquiring data are in dispute, the underlying goal—using social media to take the pulse of voters and find those who are persuadable—was common to both campaigns.
So-called micro-targeting, which borrows techniques from the marketing world, is as much about mobilizing voters and getting them to the polls as about changing minds.
And micro-targeting long pre-dates the internet, with campaigns as early as 1976 using this method, according to Victoria Farrar-Myers, a political scientist and researcher at Southern Methodist University.
Everyone who uses social media makes a decision to share some personal information, she says, although they “may not be fully aware of how people can utilize that.”
“Being able to micro-target a voter down to what magazine they read and what issues might make them turn out does have an advantage for a candidate when they’re running for an election.”
“The Trump campaign did quite a good job at micro-targeting,” she said, noting that it put a heavy focus on seemingly marginal localities that were identified as potentially winnable thanks to socal media, and ended up tipping Republican.
According to documents released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Trump’s new choice of national security advisor John Bolton also hired Cambridge Analytica to conduct profiling work for his Super PAC fundraising group in support of Republican congressional candidates. READ MORE