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Cambridge Analytica: Genius marketing strategy or Unethical scandal?

Updated: Nov 2

Cambridge Analytica is a data marketing firm which during the 2010s collected personal data from millions of Facebook users without their knowledge and stored them to build psychological profiles of users. The organisation was allegedly hired by the Leave EU and UKIP parties during the Brexit referendum in 2016. Research carried out by journalist Carole Cadwalladr which suggests that data was used to create dishonest ads which were filtered out to a small percentage of Facebook users which Cambridge Analytica’s data suggest as persuadable.



If these claims are true, it suggests that corporate governance laws have been broken due to the UK government setting laws around the amount of money parties can spend on political campaigns. I remember this news story dominating headlines back in 2016, however as I was only 15 at the time and therefore couldn’t vote I didn’t take much interest in it. Now I’m learning about ethics and being encouraged to think more critically it has been an example which comes to mind a lot due to the blurred lines surrounding whether it was right or wrong. I must admit, it is a genius marketing strategy, as they would have targeted the part of the online population which may be undecided and played on their fears in order to persuade them to vote to leave the EU. Examples of these posts are above. Though it is very clever, it sits morally wrong with me.


For me, the main problem of this case lies around these ads being filtered out online, to a select amount of people. As a result of this, it is hard to place blame or even prove the validity of peoples claims as there is little to no physical proof that this happened. Unlike other platforms such as Twitter, once you’ve scrolled past something on Facebook and left the app it is near impossible to find the same posts in your timeline again. The lack of laws surrounding this topic of course show that regulation of some sort is necessary to keep the internet free from propaganda impinging on people’s privacy. However, it is hard to develop regulation and laws due to the internet being free to use to anyone worldwide. Therefore, it can be said that perhaps we should rely on a code of ethics to keep online regulated.



I believe that a Kant’s Modern Deontological Approach could be suited well to this issue. This theory suggests that everyone must follow a few categorical imperatives such as “Thou Shall Not Lie”. This would be nice to implement online and would help to prevent the spread of misinformative posts. In my opinion, it would be wrong to apply an Absolutist moral approach to the internet as this may kill the freedom of speech which users are currently entitled to. However, we must take responsibility for some things such as mis-informing masses of people for personal gain for being incorrect and morally wrong. If you would like to hear more about what Carole Cadwalladr uncovered, here is the link to her Ted talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/carole_cadwalladr_facebook_s_role_in_brexit_and_the_threat_to_democracy/up-next?language=en#t-376648 . I would love to know your opinions in the comments. What do you think of the Cambridge Analytica scandal? Do you think we can ever regulate the internet?

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