Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Netflix documentary The Great Hack provides a deep insight behind the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal of early 2018 and how the British company used Facebook user data to target and influence voters across multiple elections, namely the 2016 US Presidential Election, the EU referendum and numerous other political elections around the globe.
The documentary examines how the data was harvested from users without their knowledgeality tests in order to build psychological profiles used to target voters deemed as “persuadables”, so they could then manipulate their social media environments with political advertising and media coverage in favour of certain parties in order to influence their voting decisions, which turned out to have huge consequences, particularly resulting in wins for Donald Trump and the Leave.EU campaign.
The film follows several key people involved with the scandal, each detailing their own experiences during this time. We first meet David Carroll, an associate
professor in New York who is pursuing a lengthy legal case against Cambridge
Analytica, asking that they turn over all data they have collected on him. Then there are other very key players such as Carol Cadwalladr, a journalist for The Observer who tell us how even amidst a torrent of bullying and derision from several parties, she helped bring the scandal to light with the help of former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistle-blower Christopher Wylie.
But arguably the most intriguing, is our journey with former Business Development Director for Cambridge Analytica Brittany Kaiser, who herself also turned whistle-blower and gave evidence to UK parliament detailing their involvement in the Leave.EU campaign during the EU referendum, as well as revealing the company’s involvement in the Trump presidential election campaign. Kaiser strikes a very divisive figure; is her coming forward a truly altruistic endeavour, or is she simply trying to save herself from drowning in the murky waters? The film leaves this for us to decide but it’s the ambiguity of such a complex character that only adds to the intrigue of the subject matter.
The film spends a lot of time one-on-one with these people, but we also get to see the real-life parliamentary testimonials from Kaiser and Wylie, which in-turn dramatically contradict what we subsequently hear from Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix. There is also the much-publicized Mark Zuckerberg Congress hearing shown here side-by-side with the disbelieving reactions from the likes of David Caroll, Kaiser as they watch him seemingly play down Facebook's involvement in the whole affair.
Not only does all this make for a fascinating watch, but it all helps paint a bigger and clearer picture of everything that happened. The Great Hack manages to be accessible for everyone at varying levels of familiarity with this topic, allowing us to fully comprehend what this all meant and continues to mean for us in the modern world where data has now become the leading global commodity.
The film and its subjects ask a lot of questions. Are data rights the same as human rights? What can be done to preserve our democratic process? How do we hold those involved accountable? It’s true that the film doesn’t give us any answers, but its goal here is in fact to leave you with a lot of food for thought.
Informative. Frustrating. Saddening. Eye-opening. Thought-provoking. The Great Hack is all these things and more. All in all, it is an important piece of filmmaking that seems a true testament to all the hard work of those who helped bring everything to the public eye.