Sue Halpern June 8, 2017
Prototype Politics: Technology-Intensive Campaigning and the Data of Democracy by Daniel Kreiss Oxford University Press, 291 pp., $99.00; $27.95 (paper)
Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters by Eitan D. Hersch Cambridge University Press, 261 pp., $80.00; $30.99 (paper)
Donald Trump; drawing by James Ferguson
Not long after Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory, an article published in the Swiss weekly Das Magazin, and reprinted online in English by Vice, began churning through the Internet. While pundits were dissecting the collapse of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the journalists for Das Magazin, Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, pointed to an entirely different explanation—the work of Cambridge Analytica, a data science firm created by a British company with deep ties to the British and American defense industries.According to Grassegger and Krogerus, Cambridge Analytica had used psychological data culled from Facebook, paired with vast amounts of consumer information purchased from data-mining companies, to develop algorithms that were supposedly able to identify the psychological makeup of every voter in the American electorate. The company then developed political messages tailored to appeal to the emotions of each one. As the New York Times reporters Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim described it: A voter deemed neurotic might be shown a gun-rights commercial featuring burglars breaking into a home, rather than a defense of the Second Amendment; political ads warning of the dangers posed by the Islamic State could be targeted directly at voters prone to anxiety….Even more troubling was the underhanded way in which Cambridge Analytica appeared to have obtained its information. Using an Amazon site called Mechanical Turk, the company paid one hundred thousand people in the United States a dollar or two to fill out an online survey. But in order to receive payment, those people were also required to download an app that gave Cambridge Analytica access to the profiles of their unwitting Facebook friends.