On Wikipedia 21st March 2018:
“Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual […] So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.” — Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, October 2016. (Suspended on 21st March)
As the discussion hots up about the role Cambridge Analytica (founded by conservatives Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer) and its parent company SCL (founded by Nigel John Oakes ) what does this say about democracy?
Youtube video, Cambridge Analytica: Undercover Secrets of Trump’s Data Firm, Channel 4 News, Published on Mar 20, 2018
It beggars belief that, in a ‘democracy’, the supporters of particular interests can get away with this kind of unethical behaviour. It is unethical because, on the face of what is now emerging, Cambridge Analytica are not only prepared to lie and deceive, but will use every available strategy, including the application of science and technology, to do so. It appears that they will take money to influence elections throughout the world (including the BREXIT referendum), using the emotional manipulation of voters as their method. And, of course, they would not exist without their clients, who are at the top of the pyramid of culpability.
We have known since Freud separated the mind into the id, the ego and the super-ego, that we are each engaged in a personal battle to overcome our immediate emotional impulses and do what seems moral and reasonable. Therefore the Cambridge Analytica approach towards politics that is designed to play on emotions rather than reason is a direct affront to ethics and reason.
The overwhelming feeling I get is that the average citizen is letting these things happen and then living in the wake of the consequences, rather than pro-actively making sure they do not happen in the first place. This opens the door to entrepreneurs of all sorts to knowingly and deliberately exploit the system, then escape before any regulatory mechanisms come into play. It happens again and again on both a large (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis) and a small (industry specific) scale. Society is playing catch-up, instead of leading with a set of sound ethical principles that will hold to account anybody who is later found to have transgressed them.
Before you argue that the term ‘unethical’ is relative or that this account is only one of many alternative truths, let’s be clear that this is not a matter of what is right or wrong in any absolute sense. It is a matter of, given your interpretation of the evidence, what world you want to live in. This is only a point of view, but hopefully one that captures the reaction of many.
Democracy is usually defined as ‘rule by the people’, as opposed to any élite group. There are two big problems with the current form of democracy. First, if money can buy votes then we re back to a situation where (increasingly) a small number of people make the rules. Secondly, we do not really have democracy at all – rather we have what is called ‘representative democracy’ where a small number of people put themselves up for election (or are selected by political parties). This is not true democracy because there is no way that this selected or self-selected group of people is representative.
True democracy would pick people at random from the population so that they were representative in exactly the same way as a statistical sample is representative. As technology enables people to better have a say, we should be moving towards direct democracy. Sortition is a system of representative democracy. Also see Digital democracy and Direct Democracy.