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Video: NCGOP hired firm to utilize personal data from "one of the largest leaks" in Facebook history - and NC's 2014 election was their "case study."

London-based research firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million Facebook users without their consent in a targeted campaign to manipulate voters.

In a new unnerving development of democracy in the age of big data, Facebook has acknowledged that Cambridge Analytica, a London-based firm, harvested data from 50 million Facebook users without their consent in “one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.” In a new video highlighted below, whistleblower and co-founder of Cambridge Analytica Christopher Wylie details a deliberate campaign to “micro-target” Facebook users in an attempt to manipulate their vote. While the reach of this nefarious campaign is global, its consequences hit home in the North Carolina congressional races.

Wealthy Republican donor Robert Mercer connected with Steve Bannon funded the operation.

The story begins with a wealthy Republican donor, Robert Mercer, who invested $15 million into Cambridge Analytica. The firm had courted Mercer’s advisor Steve Bannon, who hoped to wage a “culture war,” and Cambridge Analytica promised to deliver results. Specifically, they could use data to pinpoint personalities of American voters and use a micro-targeted ad campaign to “influence their behavior” (New York Times, 3/17/18).

The firm reached out to researchers who had developed an app to mine user data and “map personality traits.”

However, the firm needed data, and lots of it. Therefore, the firm reached out to researchers at Cambridge University who had developed a technique to “map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook.” Researchers paid users to take a personality quiz and download an app. However, unbeknownst to the users, the app also mined the data of all their friends and turned it over to Cambridge. Therefore, the researchers need only reach out to thousands of survey users to yield millions of data profiles. Under the guise of using the data for “academic purposes,” the firm turned over data to political operatives. Using an app that “crawls through social networks” Cambridge Analytica captured the data of those who opted into taking a survey and their Facebook friends. In the summer and fall of 2014, Cambridge Analytica tested their methods on the U.S. midterm elections, including Thom Tillis’ in North Carolina.

The chief executive of the firm was a foreign national who championed “psychographic modeling techniques” to target voters’ vulnerabilities and affect their voting patterns.

In a particularly Orwellian spin, whistleblower Christopher Wylie, one of the founders of Cambridge, told 4 News about the firm’s “psychographic modeling techniques” that allowed Cambridge Analytica to pay an outside researcher claiming to use the information for academic purposes to “micro-target” voters’ “mental vulnerabities” to affect their voting patterns for the election.  Social media was captured and run through an algorithm which gets “better than human level accuracy.” These “psychological operations” were paid for by Cambridge Analytica and yielded what amounted to a “Republican big data gold rush.”

Cambridge Analytica used their techniques to aid the Thom Tillis campaign in 2014 and cite it on their website as a way of “maximizing campaign impact.”

Cambridge Analytica’s work for Thom Tillis is featured on their website citing their “unique data-rich voter file” as a key to the success of their work in North Carolina in 2014 and “maximizing campaign impact.” The case study notes that they targeted over 123,000 North Carolinians using data from the Facebook leak. (Cambridge Analytica (Cambridge Analytica, case study: Thom Tillis, accessed, 3/18/18)

Furthermore, the 2014 work performed by CA was largely done by foreign nationals, despite a warning from the firm’s lawyer that it would be illegal to use foreign nationals for election work. Consequently, the Tillis campaign remains implicated in a global data-leak that exploited Facebook users’ personal information for political gain.