How Your Data on Facebook Is Collected and Used to Win Elections


Facebook went from reuniting with your school friends to influencing elections. But how can someone use your data on Facebook to change how you’ll vote in the next election?


Let’s take a look at how Facebook fits within the political sphere.

How Can Facebook Influence Elections?

First of all, let’s explore why influencers have their sights set on Facebook. After all, it’s chock-full of memes and cat videos; what would anyone want with those?

While Facebook has its share of digital chaff, it does have one thing in spades; personal information. This kind of data is essential for political influencers, as it allows them to refine their campaign.

To win an election, a political party has to appeal to the masses. Ideally, it should tackle the issues that young people face while also covering the older demographic. The public has fears, concerns, and expectations for their country; if a political party accurately identifies these, they can use them as leverage for the election.

Facebook is a great way to analyze these different demographics. From hobbies to career choices to thoughts on political topics, someone can glean a lot of information from Facebook that they can use to influence voters to their side.

How Is Facebook Data Gathered?

To collect all this Facebook data, a researcher could trawl across the website and scan every profile for information. However, why would they search when they can encourage users to hand it over instead?

Analysts use a personality test that measures five elements: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism. They can use these five traits to profile people and figure out what they want most psychologically.

Analysts can get this data from looking at profiles, photos, likes, and posts. As we mentioned above, however, they can also allow users to hand over their data to them freely.

If there’s one thing social media users love, it’s a good personality quiz. People can answer a few personal questions and learn which element they are, or which Harry Potter character fits them best. Quiz-takers can share their results with friends, who then take the test themselves to see what they get.

As you might have guessed, an analyst can create a personality test that asks people about the big five psychological traits. The quiz may ask for the user to share personal information so the researchers can match the quiz results to the person.

Once the user finishes the quiz, they finally learn which Frozen character they are, while the analyst has enough data to create a psychological profile of them.

How Do Campaigners Use Profile Data?

Now that the analysts have created a profile for the citizens of a country, they can hand the data over to political campaigners. So, how do campaigners use this data to influence how you vote?

The answer is with advertising. The campaigners have a psychological map about you, including what you hold dear and what you’re afraid of. They can use these points as leverage by using targeted advertising that shows you information related to your profile.

For example, if your psychological profile says you’re afraid of crime, you’ll see ads that claim a political party is cracking down on criminals. If you hold your family dear to you, you’ll see ads telling you how a certain president is looking out for your spouse and children.

This completes the roadmap on how Facebook data can influence voters. Users upload personal data, share photos, and take fun personality quizzes that builds a psychological profile about them. The analyst passes this data to a political campaigner who uses it to sculpt a targeted advert run on said users.

How Facebook Influenced the 2016 US Election

To see this roadmap in effect, let’s go back to the 2016 US election. Despite people claiming he’d never make it, Donald Trump won the election to become president. As such, people began looking into how Trump managed to pull ahead when it came to election day.

How Cambridge Analytica Helped the Republican Party

Cambridge Analytica (CA) was a likely influencer in Trump’s campaign. This company specialized in creating user psychological profiles to target advertisements better. The Republican Party brought on CA to help influence people to vote for Trump.

Before Trump brought them on, Cambridge Analytica had a motherlode of data on American citizens. One of their most successful data sources was a quiz called “This Is Your Digital Life,” which asked users questions about their personality and life.

320,000 people would go on to take this quiz, as reported by The Straits Times. However, back in 2015, Facebook’s data privacy wasn’t as strict as it is now. As a result, the quiz could gather information about every quiz taker’s friends and contacts without their permission. This resulted in the creation of 50 million profiles from one quiz.

Prior to the election, Cambridge Analytica only used these profiles for marketing purposes. After they were brought on-board to the Republican party, CA began using the data to guide campaign efforts so they targeted the correct person.

To this day, there’s a lot of debate over the effect CA had on the election. Some claim that CA’s influence single-handedly won Trump the vote, while others state that CA was just part of a more substantial reason.

Either way, the CA scandal got so large that Facebook addressed the Cambridge Analytica scandal

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themselves. Eventually, CA would close its doors in May 2018.

How Effective Was the Targeted Ad Campaign?

While this tactic is quite chilling, here is no substantial evidence that CA’s effort greatly influenced the vote. There’s no single document or statistic that someone can point to that proves the targeted ads changed voter’s minds.

What is known, however, is that CA did use Facebook data to fuel a political campaign. Regardless of if it was successful or not, the truth still stands that it happened. As such, people who are worried about this kind of data collection should take steps to protect their data online.

How to Prevent Voter Profiling on Facebook

So, regardless of how powerful this voter-profiling is, how do you prevent it from happening to you?

First of all, if you have privacy concerns and you still use Facebook, you’re unfortunately shooting yourself in the foot. Facebook is a goldmine for companies who want to harvest and use your data against you.

The best way to stop companies from harvesting your Facebook profile is never to create it; the second-best way is to delete it as soon as you can.

Personality tests are fun to do, but be careful if you notice the quiz gets a little personal. If a “Which superhero are you?” questionnaire begins asking you for an email address, name, date of birth, or any other personal information, they’re not asking to decide if you’re Spider-man or Thor.

Don’t hand over your data willingly to these tests, no matter how many of your friends are posting their results. Your information is worth more than the results of a novelty personality test!

Monitoring Who Has Your Facebook Data

Facebook is a goldmine for personal information, and with it comes the businesses who want to harvest this data. This includes political parties, who use the psychological profile constructed by your data to target advertisements at you.

If you want to see where else your Facebook data went, be sure to read how to check if your Facebook data was sold off

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