The Great Hack – Demonstrating Bias in Political Communication

Netflix’s – The Great Hack Documentary – Trailer

Netflix’s latest big documentary was launched yesterday.

I guess many may have hoped it would shed some light on how social media companies are able to distort democratic, open discourse of political and social issues by introducing their own biases.

Unfortunately it failed to do that. Instead it was really just an attack on Trump (and his election campaign) and to a lesser extent, on Brexit. It was essentially ‘liberal’ propaganda. Another attempt to discredit the election of Trump and the result of Brexit.

It focused on Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian journalist whose investigation into political campaigning outfit Cambridge Analytica ultimately led to the collapse of the company.

Clearly, from the evidence, Cambridge Analytica used some fairly aggressive and unpleasant tactics in it’s campaigns for ‘conservative’ clients. I wouldn’t try and defend them. Quite the opposite. I am not surprised Vote Leave refused to work with them in 2016 on their Brexit campaign.

Nor would I defend any companies using similar tactics working on behalf of Democrat campaigns in the USA or ‘liberal’ political parties across the world. Except of course none were mentioned in the ‘documentary’.

None at all.

But of course they exist. All political parties use outside companies because elections only happen every so often – you can’t keep a full staff on the payroll when there are no elections happening.. So outside companies are called in to provide staff and expertise.

In the early part of the film we saw Carole Cadwalladr talking about the revelations she had received from Chris Wylie, a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica.

Later in the film, it was briefly revealed he hadn’t actually worked for them at the time of the Brexit campaign or the Trump campaign earlier. In fact, a little research on the Internet reports that he only worked for the firm for a short period from 2013 to 2014. Before that he worked for the Liberal Democrats in the UK. The documentary didn’t mention that bit..

Now obviously at the point of this revelation about the whistleblower not actually having worked for Cambridge Analytica at all at the time of the two political events in question might have made you expect the narrative to involve a follow-up interview with Ms Cadwalladr confronting her with this very difficult fact.

It didn’t happen. They ignored that..

Instead it went on to focus largely on a young American woman called Brittany Keiser who worked for Cambridge Analytica and pitched for some work with Leave.eu in 2016.

However, the documentary failed to explain that although Cambridge Analytica did a bit of exploratory work for Leave.eu they didn’t do anything further because Leave.eu failed to get nominated by the UK Electoral Commission as the lead Leave Campaign who were then able therefore to spend ten-times more money than any other Leave campaign group. Vote Leave won that nomination.

Instead the impression was given that Cambridge Analytica won the Brexit campaign through nefarious tactics. If I was watching it anywhere else in the world, I would think the Brexit result was some kind of fix.

It was absolute nonsense. Cambridge Analytica weren’t part of it.

There are serious issues to be confronted about how social media and communications companies are operating. The companies that own and operate the communications infrastructure we all use every day are introducing major biases and partisanship and this documentary from Netflix was just one stark example – which unless explained would not even have been perceived by many.

We are going to need to get this fixed. Social media and conventional media companies like Netflix are clearly distorting the information and introducing all kinds of negative outcomes.

US elections have used vicious negative campaigning techniques for years. Some brief investigations in 2017, that I did, indicated that the Labour party were perhaps doing something similar then.

The conclusion of the movie was at least correct. There is a big problem. But the movie (I prefer that description to ‘documentary’) is part of the problem – not the solution.

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