Citizen Action Monitor

How Cambridge Analytica, aided by 2 Cambridge University academics, radically changed electioneering

The age of computer-based, propagandized message-shaping to match voter personality types is here to stay.

No 2188 Posted by fw, March 23, 2018

Michael Wade

“Much of the discussion has been on how Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain data on more than 50m Facebook users – and how it allegedly failed to delete this data when told to do so. But there is also the matter of what Cambridge Analytica actually did with the data. In fact the data crunching company’s approach represents a step change in how analytics can today be used as a tool to generate insights – and to exert influence. … Cambridge Analytica was contracted to the Trump campaign and provided an entirely new weapon for the election machine. While it also used demographic segments to identify groups of voters, as Clinton’s campaign had, Cambridge Analytica also segmented using psychographics. As definitions of class, education, employment, age and so on, demographics are informational. This makes a lot of sense. It’s obvious that two people with the same demographic profile (for example, white, middle-aged, employed, married men) can have markedly different personalities and opinions. We also know that adapting a message to a person’s personality – whether they are open, introverted, argumentative, and so on – goes a long way to help getting that message across.”Michael Wade, The Conversation

Today’s piece fills in some of the gaps in a story posted on March 20 explaining how computer-based propagandized message shaping influenced voter outcomes in the 2016 US election campaign, and put Trump in the White House.

The repost below of Michael Wade’s account explains how Cambridge Analytica obtained Facebook data from 50 million Facebook users and used these files to build personality profiles for over 100 million registered US voters. Wade’s account would have benefitted from some concrete examples to illustrate in greater detail Cambridge Analytica’s ad-building process.

The SEE ALSO link at the bottom of this post is worth a look.

Michael Wade is Professor of Innovation and Strategy, Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation, IMD Business School.

My repost includes added subheadings and highlighted text. To read the article on The Conversation’s website, click on the following linked title.

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Psychographics: the behavioural analysis that helped Cambridge Analytica know voters’ minds by Michael Wade, The Conversation, March 21, 2018

The leading characters of this news-breaking thriller —

The dealings that have been revealed between Cambridge Analytica (CA) and Facebook have all the trappings of a Hollywood thriller: a Bond villain-style CEO, a reclusive billionaire, a naïve and conflicted whistle-blower, a hipster data scientist turned politico, an academic with seemingly questionable ethics, and of course a triumphant president and his influential family.

Much is made of Facebook data, but how did CA get it and what did they do with it?

Much of the discussion has been on how Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain data on more than 50m Facebook users – and how it allegedly failed to delete this data when told to do so. But there is also the matter of what Cambridge Analytica actually did with the data. In fact the data crunching company’s approach represents a step change in how analytics can today be used as a tool to generate insights – and to exert influence.

CA took data segmentation techniques to the next level using psychographics

For example, pollsters have long used segmentation to target particular groups of voters, such as through categorizing audiences by gender, age, income, education and family size. Segments can also be created around political affiliation or purchase preferences. The data analytics machine that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used in her 2016 campaign – named Ada after the 19th-century mathematician and early computing pioneer – used state-of-the-art segmentation techniques to target groups of eligible voters in the same way that Barack Obama had done four years previously.

The Trump campaign had contracted CA to provide an “entirely new weapon” for the election

Cambridge Analytica was contracted to the Trump campaign and provided an entirely new weapon for the election machine. While it also used demographic segments to identify groups of voters, as Clinton’s campaign had, Cambridge Analytica also segmented using psychographics. As definitions of class, education, employment, age and so on, demographics are informational.

Psychographics are behavioural – a means to segment by personality, such as introverted, argumentative, etc.

This makes a lot of sense. It’s obvious that two people with the same demographic profile (for example, white, middle-aged, employed, married men) can have markedly different personalities and opinions. We also know that adapting a message to a person’s personality – whether they are open, introverted, argumentative, and so on – goes a long way to help getting that message across.

Understanding people better

Cambridge used two University of Cambridge academics, Aleksandr Kogan and Michal Kosinski, to fill in the knowledge gaps

There have traditionally been two routes to ascertaining someone’s personality. You can either get to know them really well – usually over an extended time. Or you can get them to take a personality test and ask them to share it with you. Neither of these methods is realistically open to pollsters. Cambridge Analytica found a third way, with the assistance of two University of Cambridge academics.

Against Facebook’s code of conduct, Kogan sold CA access to data from 50 million Facebook users

The first, Aleksandr Kogan, sold them [CA] access to 270,000 personality tests completed by Facebook users through an online app he had created for research purposes. Providing the data to Cambridge Analytica was, it seems, against Facebook’s internal code of conduct, but only now in March 2018 has Kogan been banned by Facebook from the platform. In addition, Kogan’s data also came with a bonus: he had reportedly collected Facebook data from the test-takers’ friends – and, at an average of 200 friends per person, that added up to some 50m people.

Kosinski developed a way to predict a person’s personality on the basis of 300 Facebook “likes”

However, these 50m people had not all taken personality tests. This is where the second Cambridge academic, Michal Kosinski, came in. Kosinski – who is said to believe that micro-targeting based on online data could strengthen democracy – had figured out a way to reverse engineer a personality profile from Facebook activity such as likes. Whether you choose to like pictures of sunsets, puppies or people apparently says a lot about your personality. So much, in fact, that on the basis of 300 likes, Kosinski’s model is able to predict someone’s personality profile with the same accuracy as a spouse.

Back to Kogan who enhanced Kosinski’s ideas and cut a deal with CA

Kogan developed Kosinksi’s ideas, improved them, and cut a deal with Cambridge Analytica.

CA used data from Kogan and others to build personality profiles for over 100 million registered US voters

Armed with this bounty – and combined with additional data gleaned from elsewhere – Cambridge Analytica built personality profiles for more than 100m registered US voters. It’s claimed the company then used these profiles for targeted advertising.

Given voter segmentation by personality profiles, Facebook users would be influenced by ads tailored to their political confirmation biases, and would vote accordingly

Imagine for example that you could identify a segment of voters that is high in conscientiousness and neuroticism, and another segment that is high in extroversion but low in openness. Clearly, people in each segment would respond differently to the same political ad. But on Facebook they do not need to see the same ad at all – each will see an individually tailored ad designed to elicit the desired response, whether that is voting for a candidate, not voting for a candidate, or donating funds.

CA composed ads along different political themes – immigration, economy, gun rights, etc. – all tailored to different personality types

Cambridge Analytica worked hard to develop dozens of ad variations on different political themes such as immigration, the economy and gun rights, all tailored to different personality profiles. There is no evidence at all that Clinton’s election machine had the same ability.

The age of computer-based, propagandized message-shaping to match voter personality types is here to stay

Behavioural analytics and psychographic profiling are here to stay, no matter what becomes of Cambridge Analytica – which has robustly criticized what it calls “false allegations in the media”. In a way it industrializes what good salespeople have always done, by adjusting their message and delivery to the personality of their customers.

This approach to electioneering – and indeed to marketing – will be Cambridge Analytica’s ultimate legacy.

SEE ALSO

Cambridge Analytica scandal: legitimate researchers using Facebook data could be collateral damage by Annabel Latham, The Conversation, March 20, 2018 — Whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who previously worked as a contractor at Cambridge Analytica, told the Guardian that the company used the data to target American voters ahead of President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. He claimed that Cambridge Analytica was a “full-service propaganda machine”.

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