I know a guy in my neighbourhood, who used to be this naive, quiet child. Growing up, he always used to get compared to his younger sibling who was better than him at studies. Every time the parents berated him for being dumb at studies, I could notice the sadness in his eyes. He always used to struggle at studies despite trying his level best. Over the years, I had lost contact with him, until I saw him early this year, being crazy active on Facebook. The time, which coincided with the election process of the republic of India, this quiet guy had turned into a zealot, a Facebook warrior if you must say. His posts reeked of incitement towards a particular political party. Every time, he argued for his party of choice, he spewed venom on various posts. His articulation towards hateful posts was seething with vitriol. I wondered, what could’ve made this guy so bitter about everything? Last night, I watched the Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack’ and straightaway I knew the answer. He was clinically brainwashed by the countless innocent looking posts, memes, videos, backed by a certain political party. Just like him, almost daily, thousands of young men are being indoctrinated over the cybersphere. They just don’t know it yet.
‘The Great Hack’ talks about how closely the cyberspace has managed to infiltrate our daily lives. Our posts, shares, choice of music, movies, state of mind everything is being mined behind the curtains to create a psychographic profile that more or less, reveals a lot about the personality that one possesses. Once the personality is revealed, various posts, videos are curated to draw the attention towards it. Slowly the people, who resembled this personality, get their thought process concrete upon these posts. Once you’ve changed the thinking process, you get this group of people dancing on your tunes. The erstwhile data firm Cambridge Analytica did exactly that, to swing a major group of people, to change their perspective towards a certain political party. These people, called ‘The Persuadables’ by Cambridge Analytica changed the course of history in the 2016 United States Presidential elections as well the Brexit referendum. All they had to do, is to get people’s opinions using some innocuous survey questionnaire. Then came the psychographic profiling. The people did the rest. Easy, just like that!
The fact remains, all these huge tech giants like Facebook, Twitter or even Google, they have accesses to countless personal data of their consumers. Selling the personalised data to an organisation, who can mine it to an extent that it ends up revealing a personality, is like weaponising of natural Uranium. In the 21st century, personal data is the weapon that has the capability of destroying lives. And Cambridge Analytica just did that with Hillary Clinton, with folks against the exit of Britain from European Union and many countries, most notably the national elections of Trinidad and Tobago and closer home, the national elections of the Indian republic in 2010.
The documentary takes you through the accounts of two former employees of Cambridge Analytica – Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser, the latter being the former director of business development, who worked closely with the CEO Alexander Nix and manages to shock the viewer with its tale of lies, deception and unethical means to access the personal data of the Facebook users, which they harvested for personal gain. The documentary uses various real-life footages which includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of Congress as well as the undercover videos of Alexander Nix’s confession of having used unethical means to gather the data, to drive their point home. Many whistleblowers, most notably David Carroll whose lawsuit against SCL Elections, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica to get his personal data back which sets the ball going and renowned journalist Carole Cadwalladr who wrote a series of scathing pieces to reveal the true intentions of Cambridge Analytica reveal their surprise as they see Mark testifying of being unaware of Cambridge Analytica’s deceitful process of using Facebook data. And then you realise how deep this shithole of a case, has embroiled people into it.
Do watch ‘The Great Hack’. It will terrify you as you see how your personal posts, views are harvested to use it against yourself. It will make you think twice before answering those innocent survey questions, posting your personal comments on a political discussion. The next time you see an advertisement on social media that dangerously resembles what were you looking over the internet, be a little suspicious about it. The irony is, that this social media debunking review post will soon go on Facebook and Twitter to reach out to it’s intended audiences. And there’s someone, hiding behind the curtains will mine this post’s data to create a psychographic profile about the author. And that’s where the irony is lost.
‘The Great Hack’ is now streaming on Netflix, worldwide.
The Cinemawala Rating: 3.5/5