How media covered Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal

The social network has been in the news following an exposé that personal data of close to 50 million of its users was stolen.

 |  6-minute read |   23-03-2018
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Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal has been dominating headlines for close to a week now. Arguably the biggest embarrassment that Facebook has had to face since its inception, the scandal followed an exposé by the New York Times and The Observer. The media investigation found that Cambridge Analytica "harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission".

More than anything else, the scandal exposed how this self-appointed guardian of our personal data cannot be trusted to safeguard the sensitive information it takes from us. Understandably, the fallout of this realisation led to the general media taking Facebook to the woodsheds and the biggest names in the news business ripping the company to shreds. This coverage also led to Facebook's shares plunging and it being stripped off almost $50 billion of its market cap overnight. 

Here's what media outlets from across the globe had to say about Facebook's faux pas.

The problem is Facebook, not Cambridge Analytica

In an opinion piece published by Bloomberg, the publication just falls short of absolving Cambridge Analytica(CA) of its crime stating that it is Facebook and not the voter profiling firm that is the real problem. Laying all the blame on Facebook, the piece argues that as far as allegations of influencing presidential elections go, there's nothing that Cambridge Analytica did in 2016 that Facebook itself didn't offer political clients in previous polls. 

"It didn't escape keen observers that if the Trump campaign used Facebook user data harvested through an app, it did no more than Barack Obama's 2012 data-heavy re-election campaign. It's not documented exactly how Obama's team gathered oodles of data on potential supporters, but a deep dive into the tech side of that campaign by Sasha Issenberg mentioned how 'targeted sharing' protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade.' To do this, the protocols would need to use the same feature of the Facebook platform for developers, discontinued in 2015, that allowed apps access to a user's friends' profiles – with the user's consent, as Facebook invariably points out."

Facebook’s threat to democracy is worse than Cambridge Analytica

The Globe and Mail's Doug Saunders in this piece chose to focus on the idea that Facebook is a far greater threat than voter profiling firms like Cambridge Analytica. The author outlines that firms like Cambridge Analytica, though dangerous, are only the symptom of a larger problem that Facebook has become. 

"These excesses deserve investigation and should be regulated, but the Cambridge Analyticas of the world are merely a side effect of a far more serious and immediate threat to democratic stability posed by companies that have unlimited, unquestioned access to even more personal information on hundreds of millions of people – that is, the social-media giants themselves, especially Facebook and Google’s YouTube."

The piece also calls for greater regulatory control over social media websites like Facebook and Twitter to ensure the very survival of democracy. "We need to seize regulatory control of our most popular communications tools, before even more aspects of democratic politics become obsolete and uneconomic."

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What about Facebook’s role in ethnic strife and genocide?

While much of the world focuses on the part Facebook and Cambridge Analytica played in influencing US presidential elections in 2016, The Washington Post's Christian Caryl, in this piece, took the opportunity to raise concerns over the role that Facebook plays in exacerbating ethnic strife and communal tensions in many parts of the world.  

As one of the major platforms for sharing news and information, Facebook has been found time and again guilty of acting as the platform of choice for spreading hate speech and sparking ethnic conflict and even genocide.

"It’s understandable that Washington politicians should be concerned primarily about the possible damage inflicted upon US citizens by Facebook policies (or its laxness in enforcing them, which may well be the issue in the Cambridge Analytica case). But if the legislators can persuade the elusive Zuckerberg to appear before their committees, they should also take the opportunity to question him about Facebook’s global role – and specifically about allegations that the platform has allowed itself to become a tool for the instigators of hate speech, ethnic conflict and even genocide."

Though Facebook has started to acknowledge the problem and says it’s making efforts to tackle it, the author argues that a lot more needs to be done as social media companies "certainly can’t afford to sit on their hands amid growing public indignation about their perceived reluctance to address abuses".

Disclose and let people opt out

Writing for NBC, Trevor Timm explains how the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is the product of a much larger problem. The piece argues that even though this particular case has been in the limelight because of the obvious connections to Donald Trump's presidential campaigns, what cannot be ignored is that Facebook is not the only one in the wrong here as there are countless other companies which are in the "business of collecting and selling access to everyone’s data on a scale that boggles the mind".

The story slams Facebook for its outrage over what it calls "breach of trust" on Cambridge Analytica's part. Calling them out for their hypocrisy, the piece argues that it is Facebook's business model and not these smaller companies that need to be blamed.

"Facebook says that it is 'outraged' over the brewing scandal and that it 'will take whatever steps are required' to prevent a similar incident from happening again. But why should anyone trust them? Their business model, as well as countless other online companies', is to control and then sell to advertisers microtargeted connections to the most massive collection of personal data in human history, encompassing literally billions of people."

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What do we have to say?

At DailyO, we have a variety of opinions on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, in this article published on our website, the author slams the social networking portal for its apparent efforts to cover up the scandal. 

"...the reality is that for all that Facebook may say, as the self-appointed guardian of the vast amount of personal data it collects from its users, it is ultimately Facebook's duty to not only protect but also inform users that their personal data has fallen into the hands of an unauthorised party. 

Instead of making the voter profiling firm pay on behalf of 50 million wronged users, it shockingly approached Cambridge Analytica through its lawyers to secure the data – efforts for which continued as recently as August 2016. After getting assurances that the data in question would be deleted – copies of it still remain with Cambridge Analytica – Facebook allowed the firm to continue using its platform to manipulate individuals using the stolen personal data.

This is undoubtedly Facebook's biggest betrayal. An offence users should punish by deleting their accounts on the platform and taking away the biggest resource Facebook enjoys– data."

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