- Gareth Crook
The Great Hack (2019)
After the last Netflix documentary I watched, I was fearful for this. Yes it’s hyper-stylised and a bit US focused, but it’s rather good (in a concerning way). The 2016 US Election is used as an anchor, exploring how data is gleaned, sold, used. Cambridge Analytica, their claimed 5000 data points on every American voter, how they used that. It’s not totally US obsessed, the other anchor point is Brexit and for me this is where it gets interesting. Farage, Bannon, Brexit being the “Petri dish” for the Trump election. We all willingly give up a lot of data, in order to use online services. We acknowledge that this is used for targeted advertising, millennials largely except this, growing up in the digital world it’s deemed normal. An election though, using that information to plot politically, now that’s different! Christopher Wylie is a very interesting character, the neon pink haired whistleblower of Cambridge Analytica, a data scientist with the inside scoop on the “Full Service Propaganda Machine”, but it’s Brittany Kaiser that’s the focus here. Painted rather differently, she’s a questionable character, filmed living the high life, an ill gotten one. She seems to still be struggling with the notion that she was on the wrong side, after starting out with Amnesty International, before going to Cambridge Analytica, she’s swept up in a more conservative world and clearly enjoys the ride, without thinking about the consequences of her actions. As for our online world, we’ve quickly gone from ‘Let’s share some photos and connect with friends’, to our seemingly innocent data being weaponised. Not just what we share, but also the digital rights of our friends too, no borders, the wild west of the internet. ‘Oh I don’t use facebook’... doesn’t matter, the net was cast so far and wide, it affects anyone who’s ever used a computer. It’s surveillance plain and simple. Going forward we hope it’ll change, but this happened and probably still happens. Manipulation did take place, Brexit, US2016... technically rigged. Of course Facebook are the big bad guys, for allowing this, monetising this. We trust them and Zuckerberg just sidesteps responsibility. The documentary itself is a mix of the expected motion graphics illustrating our online social interactions and the narrative they create. This is coupled with archival newsreel to drive the message home, but there’s also a lot of new interview footage following Kaiser as she’s dragged more and more into the story uncovering the unethical practices she was involved in, coming clean on what happened, without excepting any blame. Now that she’s outside, she happy to slate Cambridge Analytica. I think she’s almost unaware of what she enabled. Perhaps it’s arguable that she was as used as the data set... but to my mind she’s still culpable. There’s also a personal story at the heart of this, one that was the catalyst for the unravelling of the bigger picture and triggering all this, that of David Carroll and his lawsuit demanding access to his own data, essentially peaking behind the curtain of what it is that these corporations and campaigns are dealing in. It’s all about disinformation, propaganda, lies, targeting the ‘persuadables’. Not those who knew whether they wanted the EU or not, or wanted Clinton or Trump, this was about those undecided, looking for information, for help on making a decision and being spun a web of crafted lies to steer them. Communication warfare. The graphics are lovely though. Not especially innovative, but clean, beautifully paced, someone has done a great job. As it finishes, nothing is resolved. For Carroll, for Kaiser, for any of it. In a film full of very scary implications, this is perhaps the scariest thing of all. Data rights don’t look to be changing any time soon and I’m sure people of questionably morality aren’t going anywhere either. So we have to decide, how we use the internet, how we understand it and what we believe.