A four-month undercover investigation into Cambridge Analytica, the data-analytics firm hired by the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, aired tonight on the UK’s Channel 4, exposing the methods of the firm and its executives. Watch the full video below.
Facebook suspended the company over the weekend after two blockbuster reports in The New York Times and the UK’s Observer revealed that as many as 50 million Facebook users might have had personal data used without permission. Using a whistleblower who worked at Cambridge Analytica until 2014, the papers traced a story of digital manipulation of individual data as a means of shaping election outcomes. While many campaigns have sought to do just that for generations, the multiplier effect of laissez-faire social media giants and the interference of Russian hackers, among other factors, have increased scrutiny of the way Cambridge practiced its craft. Facebook stock today plunged nearly 7%, dragging down U.S. markets, on concerns about the role it might have played in affecting election outcomes.
The Channel 4 report took the issue into the international arena. Staffers posed as businessmen from Sri Lanka who were “interested in electoral success” in the Asian country, as the report puts it. Alexander Nix, the CEO of the company who frequently had bragged about its success working on behalf of Trump, assured the undercover journalists of its capabilities. “We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you,” he says by telephone during the segment. Over the course of the 20-minute piece, Nix and other senior executives are shown discussing a range of tactics that include entrapment and sexual blackmail.
In response to the report, Cambridge Analytica issued a lengthy statement repudiating many of the claims in the story, which it said had been “edited and scripted to grossly misrepresent the nature of those conversations and how the company conducts its business.” It said one direct quote that did not make it into the report affirmed the company’s principles.
“We’re not in the business of fake news, we’re not in the business of lying, making stuff up, and we’re not in the business of entrapment,” it said. “There are companies that do this, but to me that crosses a line.”
Nix said that in responding to outlandish scenarios he said were floated by the reporters, he “misjudged” the situation. “In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios,” he said. “I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case. I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps,’ and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.
“I deeply regret my role in the meeting and I have already apologized to staff. I should have recognized where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”
Here is the full video: