Netflix Original Documentary ‘The Great Hack’ offers a probing and in-depth investigation into the Facebook data misuse scandal and the perils that technology may pose to democracy.
Directed by- Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
Produced by- Noujaim Films, Karim Amer and Others Productions
Starring- David Carroll, Brittany Kaiser, Carole Cadwalladr
David Carroll, a professor of digital media, asks his students – “Who has seen an advertisement that has convinced you that your microphone is listening to your conversations?” All the students respond in the affirmative. Social media began with a dream of the connected world where everyone could share each other’s experiences. However, these platforms have now been weaponized. All our interactions, web searches, likes, locations, credit card swipes etc. are collected in real-time to provide fodder to a trillion-dollar-a-year industry. We have now become the commodity, but we are so in love with the social media and apps, with the gift of free connectivity and utility, that no one is bothered to read the terms and conditions, and no one cares about their breach of privacy.
The digital traces of ourselves are attached to our identity, giving any buyer direct access to our emotional pulse. The buyer could be commercial as well as political. And we are bombarded with the exclusive set of content as per our likes and dislikes. Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump Campaign as well as the Brexit Referendum. Cambridge Analytica claimed to have 5,000 data points on every American voter. Voters, who were undecided and who could have gone either way, were called as “persuadables”. These “persuadables” were apparently pushed to take the desired side by a tsunami of fake, inflammatory and provocative news feeds.
Shockingly, it is revealed in the documentary that Cambridge Analytica had successfully influenced “persuadables” in smaller countries before going for bigger ones like Trump Campaign and Brexit Referendum. The case of Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, where there were two main political parties – one for the blacks and one for the Indians. And Cambridge Analytica went for the party of Indians. Through a viral youth movement, which was in fact, a carefully calibrated social media disinformation campaign – “Do So” campaign – with the express intention of abusing existing racial tensions to influence the first-time voters and “persuadables”.
The story progresses from the perspectives of New York digital rights campaigner David Carroll, The Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, and Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser. There are other characters like Cambridge Analytica’s CEO (former) Alexander Nix, CFO (former) Julian Wheatland and employee (former) Christopher Wylie and another whistleblower Paul-Olivier Dehaye.
‘The Great Hack’ not only exposes the shortcomings of social media and technological advancement, but also emphasizes how, in the modern world, data is more valuable than oil. That’s why it advocates protection of personal data as a fundamental right. The documentary does not suggest any solution to the grave threat of personal data misuse by the data mining companies, corporates and political parties. However, the documentary does provide an insight into what tracking, harvesting and selling of personal data is all about. And how personal data can be misused to change the behaviour of individuals, communities and nations. As India is yet to enact a Data Protection Act, The Great Hack is a worth watch for the sake of awareness regarding protection of private data.