The world seems pretty upset with the news of how elections in various parts of the world were compromised, and Cambridge Analytica’s hands are apparently oozing with blood as they have been implicated in data manipulation.
The company is being accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users in their moves to influence how people vote. The repercussions of such moves are becoming manifest in the US and the UK. In the US, the outcome of the presidential elections which saw Donald Triumph emerging triumphant was reportedly influenced by the maneuvers of Cambridge Analytica. In the UK, the Brexit vote is now questioned on whether it was influenced by Cambridge Analytica.
But it is not only in these countries that Cambirdge Analytica have their influence. It’s the world over. Here, the particular focus is Nigeria. In Nigeria, data analytics company, SCL – the parent company of Cambridge Analytica had been hired by a rich Nigerian who supported the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan. An ex-employee spoke of how they were hired by a billionaire who was afraid of a change in government and spent a lot to ensure that did not happen.
Seven individuals with close knowledge of the Nigeria campaign have described how Cambridge Analytica worked with people they believed were Israeli computer hackers. They revealed that the hackers offered Cambridge Analytica access to private information about Buhari. Although the company disputes these claims, this shows how Western companies will do all they can to undermine democracies of countries that already grapple with the concept. It insists it did not take possession of or use any personal information for any purpose and did not use any “hacked or stolen data”.
What the company confirmed however was that it had been hired to provide “advertising and marketing services in support of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign”. Brittany Kaiser, a senior director at Cambridge Analytica, played a significant role in Nigel Farage’s push for Brexit and for Donald Trump’s campaign. She was to then fund a covert campaign for Muhammadu Buhari at the request of a Nigerian oil billionaire. Nearly $2m was to be spent.
Even though Buhari was not faring well, there were high stakes to this. The potential access to the vast oil reserves was in sight. “There were a lot of scared millionaires worried that Buhari would get in. It was all very last-minute. A team flew out to Abuja and put together a communications campaign. It was a straightforward, normal comms campaign in most respects,” an employee said.
The Observer has obtained an astonishing and disturbing video that Cambridge Analytica used in the campaign. “Coming to Nigeria on February 15th, 2015,” the voiceover says in the manner of a trailer for a Hollywood movie. “Dark. Scary. And very uncertain. Sharia for all.” And then it poses the question: “What would Nigeria look like if sharia were imposed by Buhari?”
The tale of Cambridge Analytica sounds like fiction, all too scary, but well, a sinister plot as in motion. The move was clear – discredit Buhari. The aim was to scare Buhari voters. The film warns that if Buhari wins women would wear the veil. Sharia law would be introduced. And the inference is, you may be macheted to death.
Things were scary, even for Cambridge Analytica employees. There were the meetings: three sources have told the Guardian about one that took place between Cambridge Analytica employees and two people they were told were Israeli intelligence operatives. The meetings involved Israeli intelligence operatives, who according to an employee did not want Buhari to win. Other employees questioned whether they were “real” Israeli intelligence operatives, or Israeli private contractors.
There was another London meeting. One of the employees thought the ‘Israeli intelligence’ were passing on ‘legitimate information’ but as it turned out this was not the case and they were scared. The information had come from the hackers. The firm had put their employees in danger. Questions were raised about the role of Western powers in the 2015 elections about whether they were taking lucrative foreign contracts to contribute to the development of democracies in developing countries, or undermining democracies.
In a statement, SCL Elections, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, confirmed it had been hired in December 2014 in support of the Jonathan campaign. “We can confirm that SCL Elections was hired in December 2014 to provide advertising and marketing services in support of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign.”
On the various meetings that took place, they said, “During an election campaign, it is normal for SCL Elections to meet with vendors seeking to provide services as a subcontractor.
“SCL Elections did not take possession of or use any personal information from such individuals for any purposes. SCL Elections does not use ‘hacked’ or ‘stolen’ data.”
Image credit: The Guardian