That Great Hack documentary is really causing a stir.
Everybody’s talking about access, ownership and unauthorized mining of all that personal data floating around the Internet.
A data analysis company, Cambridge Analytics, was hired by the Trump-for-President campaign in 2014. Thanks to some kind of relationship with Facebook, Cambridge analyzed members’ personal data without the permission of the individuals concerned.
Millions of Facebook users, considered as potential swing voters in key states, were targeted with a stream of pro-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton ads on their Facebook feeds.
Some political analysts, and certainly the documentary makers, believe these tactics swung the election in Donald Trump’s favour. Cambridge used the same tools and techniques to influence the outcome of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.
It all appears shocking. According to the filmmakers, democracy itself is at stake, that any political candidate can hire Cambridge Analytics or its ilk to sneak about the Internet and gain enough personal information from social media accounts to create a win … allowing bad guys like Trump and the anti-European Union side to win elections and referendums.
While the sheer volume of social media data out there for sale to the highest advertiser is unprecedented, this idea that political skullduggery is something new is utter bunk.
Questionable campaign tactics have been around Alberta since Alexander Rutherford’s Alberta Liberals smoked R.B. Bennett’s Conservatives in the first provincial election in 1905.
The juiciest Alberta skullduggery has always happened in provincial Conservative nomination contests. Until the accidental ND government (2015 to 2019), winning a Conservative nomination was where Alberta’s political action was centred, given the Conservatives were in power from 1971 to 2015.
Some of my favourite skullduggery Alberta political stories:
In the Conservative leadership race of 2011, Red Tory candidate Alison Redford came in third on the first round of voting, still staying on the ballot for the second round. In those days, you could buy a membership and vote between ballots.
Redford’s strategists reportedly made a deal with the teacher and nurse unions. Persuade your members to buy a Conservative party membership to vote for Alison. If we win, we will treat you right.
It worked! Outsider Redford narrowly won the party leadership and premiership, thanks to a bunch of die-hard ND types becoming Tories for a day.
In Ralph Klein’s leadership campaign in 1992, Ralph was tied with trendy, urban red tory Nancy Betkowski on the first ballot.
Betkowski was a shoo-in to win, as most other candidates threw their support behind her. But Ralph’s strategists went flat out, selling memberships outside of Edmonton and Calgary in the short time-frame between ballots. Betkowski was beaten by Ralph on the final ballot. She was so mad about the tactics she defected to the provincial Liberals.
Dirty tricks, questionable tactics, false information have been part of political parties since time immemorial! A new book on Justin Trudeau claims the government of India was in cahoots with the federal Conservatives to make Trudeau look bad on his trip to India.
In 1993, Prime Minister Kim Campbell’s campaign was floundering. Her strategists decided to release a series of unflattering photos of Liberal rival Jean Chretien featuring his misshapen lip. Bad move. Her Conservatives were annihilated.
Former politicians selling their services as political strategists — i.e. promising to do whatever it takes (for a hefty fee) to help their candidate win — are a dime a dozen.
Check out the companies registered as official lobbyists with the provincial government. Prominent on their websites are ex-politicians like Jim Dinning (Prairie Sky Consulting), Jim Dau (Alberta Counsel) and Monte Solberg (New West Public Affairs).
Services are advertised on lofty ideals of sustainability, government relations, strategic communications. But if it’s a political campaign they’ve been hired to run … just win, baby.
The scope, volume and access to personal data as documented in The Great Hack is new.
But political shenanigans are as old as the hills.
All major political parties, in any important election, use social media strategies similar to those of Cambridge Analytics. If both sides are doing it, do they cancel one another out?
The miracle, despite backroom deals, data manipulation and dirty politics, is that Canadian governments do get defeated through the electoral process. As we hope will happen later this year!