“The Great Hack” makes you think twice about how you use social media

It’s a documentary about Cambridge Analytica. You know, that dodgy company you’d never heard of until The Guardian and New York Times did some real reporting and dug into the deep, deep hole we’ve dug for ourselves by leaping into social media without reading the fine print.

It’s a Netflix production as the online streamer continues to become a mainstream producer of excellent material.

‘The Great Hack’ is over two hours long, a long sit for a documentary but it’s compelling. There are a few main characters, and a few villains, that expose the backend of the ‘Trump’ campaign and then the ‘Leave’ campaign before the Brexit.

Whilst everyone will have an opinion about the outcomes of those two campaigns, The Great Hack exposes exactly how the unlikely results became likely. It unravels a true life conspiracy theory and exposes it as fact.

The premise is well known. In any election there is a firm rump on either side and then a handful of swinging voters. The people at Cambridge Analytica called them “The Persuadables”. The trick is to 1) Identify them 2) Learn about them and then 3) Cram them with persuasive, not necessarily factual, information to influence their vote.

"The Great Hack" makes you think twice about how you use social media | News by Thaiger

Cambridge Analytica, backed up by a few successful political campaigns before, had honed a system where they ‘mined’ or ‘scraped’ information from Facebook (that point is well investigated in the documentary too), and then bombarded “The Persuadables”. At the height of the Trump campaign Cambridge Analytica were spending US$1 million per day on Facebook advertising. And “The Persuadables” were persuaded – the rest is history.

In one of the most revealing scenes a hidden camera shows key members of Cambridge Analytica coming up with the ‘crooked Hillary’ narrative that was to become one of Donald Trump’s best known media points throughout the election. Whether you wanted to believe it or not at least now you know it all came from the data-spinners of Cambridge Analytica.

The most contentious and fascinating character in the program is Brittany Kaiser, a former Obama intern who sold out to become a “posh conservative” working on Cambridge’s “Leave EU” and Trump propaganda campaigns. She then spills the beans on the machinations of the ‘system’ that has now been revealed to have had a profound impact on these two politically significant events.

She visits Phuket to speak on camera and dump on her former employees (nice to see Thailand dragged into the mess, well, scenically anyway). Her battle with her own moral compass is subtle and engrossing.

There’s David Carroll, a college professor who took Cambridge Analytica to court to reclaim his data, a heroic mission. And then there’s The Guardian reporter Carole Cadwalladr, who was one of the key investigative journalists who went after Cambridge Analytica and unravelled the whole scam.

It’s certainly the best documentary of 2019 and probably the most important. And the lessons to be learned by all of us are stark; the take home message “be a lot more careful about what you choose to share on social media”.

Highly recommended by The Thaiger, if only to see the great aerial shots of Phang Nga Bay.

"The Great Hack" makes you think twice about how you use social media | News by Thaiger "The Great Hack" makes you think twice about how you use social media | News by Thaiger

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Tim Newton

Tim joined The Thaiger as one of its first employees in 2018 as an English news writer/editor and then began to present The Thaiger's Daily news show in 2020, Thailand News Today (or TNT for short). He has lived in Thailand since 2011, having relocated from Australia.

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