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The Cambridge Analytica Scandal: A case study.

How Algorithms and Data Harvesting Affect Everyday People


Whether we like it or not, algorithms are increasingly shaping our digital experiences and can sway our attitudes, opinions, and choices. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed the misuse of personal data and the role of algorithms in manipulating political discourse during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is a prime example of this phenomenon (Cadwalladr, 2018). In this post, we'll discuss what this scandal means for regular people and how it can serve as a warning about the power and peril of algorithms in the modern world.


The Cambridge Analytica Scandal: A Brief Overview


The British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained unauthorized access to the private information of millions of Facebook users. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the company used this information to create in-depth psychological profiles of its users and to send them targeted political content (Cadwalladr, 2018). Algorithms' facilitation of the manipulation of political discourse has exacerbated polarisation by exposing people to content tailored to their preexisting beliefs and biases. This manipulation of political discourse, facilitated by algorithms, exacerbated political polarization, as people were exposed to tailored content that reinforced their beliefs and biases (Bail et al., 2018).


The Real-World Consequences of the Scandal


Loss of Confidentiality:


The Cambridge Analytica scandal has shown how easily private information about individuals can be obtained and used without their knowledge or consent. The result has been a rise in general public awareness of the importance of safeguarding personal information online and calls for stricter privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Cadwalladr, 2018). A study by Tucker et al. (2018) found that the scandal has had a significant impact on public trust in social media platforms and has raised concerns about the ethical use of personal data.


Influencing People's Opinions:


The scandal highlighted the power of algorithms to influence human choice. Cambridge Analytica's use of targeted political content had the potential to affect the outcomes of crucial democratic processes by swaying the opinions of voters. This was achieved through psychographic profiling and microtargeting (Matz et al., 2017). A study by Persily (2017) highlights the need for increased transparency and regulation surrounding using algorithms in political campaigns and other influential spheres to protect democratic processes.


Amplification of Political Polarization:


People were exposed to content that validated their preexisting views and biases, highlighting the role of algorithms in contributing to political polarisation. This can lead to "echo chambers," where people only see content supporting their worldview, further escalating the divide between various political factions (Cadwalladr, 2018). Sunstein (2017) argues that the effect of social media algorithms on political polarization poses a severe threat to democratic societies, as it can lead to extreme views and hinder meaningful dialogue.



The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a sobering reminder of how algorithms can shape our digital experiences and have real-world consequences. It is crucial that we keep an eye on how our personal information is being shared and used, and that we push for greater openness, regulation, and ethical standards in the creation and use of algorithms. Doing so can help maintain the Internet as a place where genuine discussion, educated decision-making, and robust democracy can flourish. Until next time, bubble bot out!

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