Can Data win Elections?

In 2018 Cambridge Analytica became a talking point around the world, for all the wrong reasons. A former employee confirmed what had been suspected. Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data and used this information to influence voting in political campaigns.

Data mining, data brokerage, data analysis and strategic communication are all strategies that are used in every campaign worldwide. The problem in this instance was that they did not have permission to gather this data.

An app was developed where Facebook users would answer a series of questions and the results were to be used for academic purposes only. It was revealed that a gap in Facebook’s data protection then allowed the app to collect personal information on the people taking the survey. It didn’t stop there. It also allowed access to the personal information of all the people in those users Facebook social network. As a result Cambridge Analytica had accumulated data from millions of people.

So what does this mean? Basically it means that Cambridge Analytica gathered so much data on individuals that they could build a profile allowing them to create targeted advertisements to Facebook users depending on the user’s personality traits. Their aim was to influence people on who to vote for, by showing different advertisements on the same topics to different people. In conclusion, the digital data correlated could potentially win an election.

Our own general election is around the corner and don’t be too surprised to see political advertisements pop up in your newsfeed. In fact the targeted ads based on the data you knowingly provide to Facebook is a vital tool in any campaign strategy. So much so, that from March 2019 to 19th January, Fine Gael has spent over €24,000 on Facebook advertisements.

There are arguments for and against how effective these methods are, but there is no denying that carefully gathered data is a powerful tool. This highlights more than ever that a move to digitisation is essential. Could you imagine the workload of gathering information like that with a traditional paper trail? By the time the required conclusions were gathered the information would be out of date and irrelevant. No business wants to be irrelevant. Moving forward digitisation is the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen.