It’s perhaps not for nothing that The Great Hack — the brand-new Netflix documentary about the connections between Cambridge Analytica, the U.S. referendum and Brexit, out on July 23 — opens with a scene from Burning Man. There, Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, scrawls the name of the company onto a strut of” the synagogue” that will eventually get burned in that fiery annual rite. It’s an apt opening.
There are probably many of us who’d wish quite a lot of the last couple of years could be thrown into that temple fervor, but this documentary is the firstly I’ve seen to expertly peer into the flames of what has become the real-world dumpster fire that is social media, dark publicize and global politics which have all become inextricably, and, often fatally, combined.
The documentary is also the first that you could plausibly recommend to those of your relatives and friends who don’t work in tech, as it explains how social media — specific Facebook — is now manipulating our lives and society, whether we like it or not.
As New York Professor David Carroll introduces it at the start, Facebook commits “any buyer direct access to my emotional pulse” — and that included political campaigns during the Brexit referendum and the Trump election. Privacy campaigner Carroll is pivotal to the film’s story of how our data is being influenced and essentially saved from us by Facebook.
The U.K.’s referendum decision to leave the European Union, in fact, became” the Petri dish” for a Cambridge Analytica( CA) venture, says Guardian columnist Carole Cadwalladr. She broke the story of how the political consultancy, led by Eton-educated CEO Alexander Nix, applied to the democratic operations of the U.S. and U.K ., and many other countries, over a cooling 20+ year history techniques normally used by ” psyops” spies in Afghanistan. Watching this film, you literally start to wonder if history has been warped toward a nauseating dystopia.
The Petri-dish of Brexit worked. Millions of adverts, illustrates the documentary, targeted individuals, exploiting dread and feeling, to swap them from “persuadables,” as CA called them, into passionate advocates for, first Brexit in the U.K ., and then Trump later on.
Switching to the U.S ., the filmmakers show how CA worked immediately with Trump’s” Project Alamo” expedition, spending a million dollars a day on Facebook ads ahead of the 2016 election.
The film expertly shows the timeline of how CA first ran off Ted Cruz’s safarus, and nearly propelled that lack-luster candidate into first place in the Republican nominations. It was then that the Trump campaign picked up on CA’s military-like operation.
After loading up the psychographic inspect datum CA obtained from Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University academic who orchestrated the harvesting of Facebook data, the world had become their oyster. Or, perhaps more precisely, their oyster farm.
Back in London, Cadwalladr notices triumphant Brexit campaigners fraternizing with Trump and starts excavating. There is a thread relate them to Breitbart owner Steve Bannon. There is a thread join them to Cambridge Analytica. She tugs on those strands and, like that iconic incident in The Hurt Locker, where all the strands pull out unexploded quarries, she starts to realize that Cambridge Analytica relation them all. She needs a source though. That came in the form of former employee Chris Wylie, a brave young man who was able to unravel many of the CA threads.
But the film’s attention is often drawn back to Kaiser, who had worked first on U.S. political campaigns and then on Brexit for CA. She had been drawn to the company by smooth-talking CEO Nix, who entreat: “Let me get you drunk and steal all of your secrets.”
But was she a real whistleblower? Or was she trying to cover her tracks? How could someone who’d worked on the Obama campaign switch to Trump? Was she a victim of Cambridge Analytica, or one of its scoundrels?
British political specialist Paul Hilder manages to get her to come to the U.K. to testify before a parliamentary inquiry. There is high drama as her its participation in the fib unfolds.
Kaiser appears in numerous semblances, which is different from idealistically naive to stupid, from knowing to manipulative. It’s almost impossible to know which. But hearing about her revealing as to why she made the choices she did … well, it’s an eye-opener.
Both she and Wylie have complex tales in this tale, where not everything seems to be as it is, reflecting our new world, where truth is increasingly hard to determine.
Other personas come and go in this story. Zuckerburg makes an appearance in Congress and we learn of the casual relation Facebook had to its complicity in these political shakes. Although, if you’re reading TechCrunch, then you probably know at least part of this story.
Created for Netflix by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, these Egyptian-Americans realise” The Square ,” about the Egyptian change of 2011. To them, the path Cambridge Analytica exercised its methods to online campaigning was just as much a revolution as Egyptians toppling a despot from Cario’s iconic Tahrir Square.
For them, the huge irony is that “psyops, ” or psychological actions, used on Muslim populations in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks ceased up being used to influence Western elections.
Cadwalladr stands head and shoulders above all as a bastion of dogged journalism, even as she is attacked from all one-quarters, and still is to this day.
What you won’t find out from this film is what happens next. For many, questions remain on the table: What will happen now that Facebook is entering cryptocurrency? Will that mean it could be used for dark election campaigning? Will parties is payable for their votes next time , not only in Likes? Kaiser has a bitcoin logo on the back of her phone. Is that connected? The film doesn’t comment.
But it certainly unfolds like a slow-motion car crash, where democracy is the car and you’re inside it.