Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £29.99 £19.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Political campaigns in the digital age

The application of digital technologies in a political campaign
This week we will talk about political campaigns.
Most specifically, we focus on this question: How do digital technologists change political campaigns? First, I would like to introduce the Cambridge Analytica Style Model, a typical example of the application of digital technologists in a political campaign. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which most of you have heard of before, involved the use and application of data from up to 87 million Facebook users in political campaigns without their explicit consent. How did they use the data and what is their model? According to Alexander Nix, the former CEO of Cambridge Analytica, “Your behaviour is driven by your personality……
the more you can understand about people’s personality as psychological drivers, the more you can actually start to really tap into why and how they made their decisions. But how do they know your behaviour? They know your behaviour by scraping information from your Facebook profile and look at, for example, what do you “like”, how many contacts you have and your relationship with them, how many profile pictures you have, and what political messages/ views/ voting decisions you post on your Facebook. Your smartphone can also reveal information about you. For example, the motion sensor on your mobile phone reveals how quickly you move and how far you travel. Your smartphone also shows what do you search on Google and what do buy online.
These are the so-called big data, which in essence, are the digital traces of both your online and offline behaviour. With the big data collected from various social media platform and your phone, companies like Cambridge Analytica, can use algorithms built upon behavioural science models to predict your personality. By knowing your personality, they can further deduce how and why you made a decision. And this is the power of algorithms. When does the power of algorithms become a threat to democracy? It might become a threat to democracy when it’s applied to a political campaign in democratic elections. Now standing in the centre of this application in a political campaign is the use of micro-targeted dark advertisement.
Now these are posts/advertisements you can see tailored to align as accurately as possible to your personality and using their predicition of your personality, these companies deduce your political attitudes, what you like or dislike, and further infer what messages might be more persuasive for you and send those messages to you to change your behaviour favouring their cause or candidates. They can also check your reactions to these messages and fine-tune algorithms which will improve the effectiveness of the tailored messages. Now coming along with the micro-targeted dark advertisement is fake news. They care less about whether the information is accurate, correct, and true reflection of the reality.
Instead, they only care about whether this information fake or not, can induce behaviour that allies with their interests.
The outcomes in simple language are these: they can make your vote or make you not too vote. They can also may you vote for a particular option or candidate. As a result, voters political belief or decision may no longer be their own. Now in practice, the Cambridge Analytica model has helped for example, Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential election and the Vote Leave campaign in the UK in 2015 and 16. Now elsewhere we have also seen the rise of right-wing populist and they’re successful application of the power of algorithm and digital technologies mobilizing support in recent years. Instead of ending this video with an answer, I would like to throw more questions.
What went wrong with the Cambridge Analytica style campaigning? Is it just an application of a new method? Or is this something completely different from a traditional campaign? We have seen how right-wing populist parties successfully used power of algorithms and social media platform to mobilise support in recent years. Is there truly a link between the power of algorithm and a current rise of these right-wing populism? Is this method nonpartisan? Can they be used by left-wing populist party perhaps, or other non-populist parties? But let me put it differently and be a little bit more provocative.
If Hillary Clinton or the Vote Remain campaign were to use the Cambridge Analytica style of campaigning and won, is the power of algorithms still a threat to democracy?

An introduction to the Cambridge Analytica Style Model, a typical example of the application of digital technologies in a political campaign.

  • When does the power of algorithms become a threat to democracy?
This article is from the free online

Digital Politics: Digital Activism and Cyber Warfare

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now