At risk of making myself sound like an old Grandma on her rocking chair, I am of an age where I can remember how new the internet was. That awful dialling tone when I wanted to do research for homework, chatting to school friends on MSN, and waiting FOREVER if you wanted to download or install something. It seems absurd just how much we have come to depend on it over a relatively short amount of time, but depend on it we do. It has permeated our phones, our homes and our cars but one thing it hasn’t done is permeate our freedom of thought. Or so we think….
Netflix documentary, The Great Hack focuses on the 2018 social media scandal involving a data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica and its involvement in the Trump/Clinton 2016 US presidential elections, and to some extent, the 2016 Brexit election here in the UK. I’ll admit, that going into this, although I had heard a little of the scandal, I was largely ignorant to what it was actually about.
I was expecting to feel shocked, angry and even a little violated, as so many others I know did but to be completely and utterly honest with you, I didn’t feel any differently than when I first pressed play. Now before you think about jumping down my neck, remember that this is just my opinion, an opinion that I know will be in the minority but it is mine. My own. My precious!
First off, the production value is pretty poor. Given the behemoth that Netflix have become you would have thought that the programme would have had more of a polished finish but instead it felt a little amateur. However, I have watched a few documentaries over the years and I can forgive poor production value if the content is strong. Unfortunately for The Great Hack, that was not the case.
We may have been a little ignorant to the extent of the detail but we are all, in some capacity, aware that many, if not all, internet sites take and analyse information about us, which they use for algorithms to tailor things like ad content. As many of us promote our websites, businesses and even blogs online, these algorithms help to drive traffic and sales; it seems to me that we are picking and choosing when to feel offended.
Now I need to make it clear that I do not, by any means, condone what Cambridge Analytica did, or what any of the many other data mining companies do, but I do feel that we need to take some level of responsibility, even the program itself highlights the fact that we very rarely, if ever, read the terms and conditions. We cannot act outraged if we, ourselves, haven’t taken the time to read the small print.
From a personal standpoint as well, I have to argue the extent to which the programme leads us to believe that our decisions within both the US presidential elections and the British Brexit vote were influenced; as I, for one, was not only not persuaded to vote a particular way, I was not persuaded to vote at all*. And back in 2016, when the Brexit vote took place, Facebook was not only Cambridge Analytica’s biggest resource, it was also the only social media I used.
*It is important to note that the effect of Cambridge Analytica was almost certainly more prominent in the US presidential elections and therefore may have had more of an impact on the people of America.
I also found it difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for the main ‘star’ of the documentary, whistleblower Brittany Kaiser. I have no doubt that what she has done is very brave, but I got the impression that her actions were driven by self-preservation rather than remorse. Rather than offering a more rounded and well-informed argument by asking Kaiser some difficult questions, the producers treated her as a victim and a hero, all while seemingly completely ignoring her role within Cambridge Analytical.
The writing is lazy and one-sided, without offering up any surprising revelations. In fact, it almost feels as though it was created purely to absolve the general population of any responsibility regarding the current political climate we find ourselves in, both here in the UK and across the pond.
One point that particularly stood out for me was from Carole Cadwalldr, a British investigative journalist who declares that the Cambridge Analytica scandal means that we will ‘never again, be able to have a free and fair election’. I think it is ludicrous to assume that any of the worlds elections, in any form, have been free and fair but that may just be my cynicism shining through.
Have you seen The Great Hack? I would love to know your thoughts.