Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday March 27, 2018
Experts call for transparency over political parties and data mining
For years, Megan Boler’s research focused on the power of social media as a democratizing force, giving voice to the voiceless and empowering everyday people to come together and participate more meaningfully in how they are governed.
But the University of Toronto social justice professor said that even in the heady days of the Arab Spring and Obama’s social media-aided ascendancy to the White House, there were slivers of concern about how the technology might be abused.
“I would have conversations with colleagues who would say things like, ‘These are the halcyon days of the internet and we’re going to look back and wish we had those days back.’”
That future appears to have arrived, as reports swirl about foreign interference in U.S. elections, the micro-targeting of social media users to sow division and mistrust and, most recently, a data-mining firm facing allegations it scraped private information from tens of millions of Facebook users’ profiles for political gain.
“It’s a very sobering moment,” Boler said.
At the heart of the most recent fallout around Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling firm at the heart of the Facebook controversy, is a story about the increasing sophistication and secrecy of the techniques political actors and parties have developed to harvest voters’ information in the quest for power and influence.
While some experts describe Cambridge Analytica as “a bad apple” in how it gathered its data, they say the predictive analytics the company employs are industry standard in politics.
Some experts single out political parties, saying more transparency and oversight is needed to get a better understanding of their data practices, which remain closely guarded secrets. (Source: Toronto Star)