Big Data scientists claim that Big Data has the potential to insidiously challenge and subtly (and not-so subtly) influence almost every aspect of modern life. In its essence, Big Data involves everything we do, both online and offline, meaning that digital traces of our actions are almost always permanent- even that very mindless “like” you posted on a friend’s Facebook page is stored.
And on November 9, 2016 it became clear that maybe that simple “like” had a lot more power than we thought. The company behind Trump’s online campaign was a Big Data company: Cambridge Analytica. This raises questions such as “is big data being used, in the US and Canada to alter the ways we vote?”. The research suggests that this is a great influence on the election was the use of personalized advertising. Cambridge Analytica is said to have helped to swing both the US election and the EU referendum by quarrying information from Facebook and other social media websites and using it to forecast individual’s traits, then modifying the advertising that they see to a psychological profile developed from that data.
Despite the fact that everything about us can be tracked, Privacy laws in Canada have not kept up with the technology and the types of data being collected and thus, politicians are legally allowed to monitor Social media in the ways that Cambridge Analytica did to help President Trump with the election. The great potential of big data, thus, becomes that big analysis and online forums can be used by politicians (or be used against them). The trick is knowing how to use them effectively, such as marketing your campaign appropriately. Another example can be identifying voters disposed to agree with a particular political campaign, as opposed to persuading those who don’t and allowing them to influence their peers.
As politicians look into the future, it is apparent that the use of unstructured intelligence, such as the information from social media and bridging that with their campaign in efforts to do something intelligent with it has great benefits. Ultimately, what Big Data can do is allow campaigns to is gather more and more information so that they can better understand voters- and the growing availability of data is accelerating that process. Harmful? We’ll let you decide.