Your Likes could have gotten you some choice political ads. A report by Business of Fashion reveals that Cambridge Analytica, a vendor that the Trump campaign used during the 2016 election, used specific Facebook Likes to build an algorithm to target users with pro-Trump political ads.
Cambridge Analytica focused on people who liked brands such as Wrangler and LL Bean, because according to findings, they tended to be “low on openness, more conventional and more likely to respond to messaging supporting the election of Trump.”
“We need cultural defense and we all make and define these cultural narratives,” whistleblower Christopher Wylie said during a presentation in the U.K. “We depend on you to not only make our culture but protect our culture. It is up to you if Trump or Brexit become the Crocs or the Chanel of our political age.”
He went on to explain that Cambridge Analytica used a formula to match brands, including global juggernauts Nike, Armani, and Louis Vuitton, with specific personality traits: “openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.” From there, an algorithm matched Facebook users to specific ads. Wylie likened the process to a “weapon of mass destruction.” With C.A.’s history as a military contractor for both the U.K. and U.S., that doesn’t come as a surprise for some.
“We were about to destroy the world together. I became Icarus and put on wax wings and flew into the sun,” Wylie said of working with the Trump campaign and Steve Bannon to sway specific groups of people. “The difference between Facebook and the NSA is simple, but profound. The NSA’s targets are extremists, foreign spies…on Facebook, you are the target.”
BoF goes on to explain that matching fashion preferences with political ones isn’t too far off. After all, many people express themselves with what they wear. Selling clothes, shoes, and accessories is just selling an identity. Wylie noted that during the course of history, many groups have expressed tribe mentality. Cambridge Analytica studied skinheads, Nazi Germany, and China’s Maoists to see how much fashion and politics mixed. At the end of his talk, he explained that huge corporations taking personal data is a new danger that we’re all facing and though he doesn’t offer any solution, the future he paints isn’t very bright.
“Silicon Valley sees the internet as terra nova,” he said. “These companies are not our saviors, they are seeking to colonize us. Facebook is the new East India company of the internet.”