Distrust and Social Media – The Effects of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

by Leah Nicholson


The Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018 isn’t necessarily well-known by its name, but it is well-known for its impact. Concern over the relationship between social media, personal privacy, and online data is nothing new, exactly, but ever since the Facebook scandal some years ago, that concern has transformed from light worry and suspicion to a legitimate tension between the individual and online social media.

In March of 2018, the consultancy Cambridge Analytica collected data from millions of Americans’ Facebook accounts with the intent to influence how they voted in upcoming elections. At a time already plagued by a fear of hacking and misinformation, it was the final straw. The distrust created by the invasion of privacy remains potent even today, some three years later. 

In the wake of the scandal, public fear surrounding Facebook—as well as other social media—skyrocketed, moving many users to delete their accounts, as well as pushing a mass exodus of Facebook employees. The fear that online algorithms were promoting hate speech and misinformation was confirmed as user discovered the breach in privacy, creating an even tenses atmosphere. For those who use social media casually, as a sort of gateway that allows them to take a break from the world around them, it brought an uncomfortable wariness into their daily lives. How much of what is seen online is being engineered? How much of what is said and posted is collected without consent? These sorts of questions grew more and more prevalent as time went on. 

Even after the apologies of Facebook executives, including creator Mark Zuckerberg, suspicions remained—and not simply for Facebook. The relationship between technology and privacy is one that’s often been fraught with tension, but Facebook’s negligence pushed people to examine it. Though technology is often associated with pragmatic innovation and STEM fields, the need to consider its societal and ethical impact is just as relevant.

Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, created a team that would do just that, analyzing algorithms to create what they call “Responsible AI.” Recently, there has been more of an effort create algorithms that will reduce the presence of misinformation and hate speech on social media platforms, encouraging innovation while emphasizing the necessity of thoughtful, ethical invention.

Still, that tension remains, with questions of privacy and censorship in constant circulation. Many maintain their suspicion over social media and other forms of technology, unsure how to combat the ever-evolving issues that come about with their rapid development and advancement. As technology continues to mix with our individual (and often private) lives, the wariness is more than understandable—in fact, it’s oftentimes necessary. Though it took place three years ago, the Cambridge Analytica scandal serves as a reminder that people’s acceptance and enthusiasm for the convenience of technology must be balanced with accountability in order to maintain a responsible, ethical standard. 

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