“The Great Hack”, directed by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim is a Netflix film, long at 139 minutes (extensive end credits), shown to a full house at the AFI Docs at Landmark E Street in Washington DC.
The opening is a shot of a week-long Burning Man encampment city in Nevada, 150 miles east of Reno, and Brittany Kaiser steps out of her trailer and makes a little statement about finding herself. Logan Paul has filmed there; the experience has the meme hashtag “#nospectators”.
After this prelude the film moves back to the big city, London, and quickly moves to its main course, the history of Cambridge Analytica, as a company that mines social media user data and sells it. The main customers were supposed to be advertisers, to send targeted ads. We all know that. But political campaigns, especially Donald Trump’s, became customers, and so had Nigel Farage of Brexit. In fact, it may be Brexit that first attracted attention about how things could quickly go wrong. Later, we would learn how the Russians took information and sent fake news posts to echo chambers on social media, driving political polarization which might have pushed Trump over to walk-off on the election.
As far back as 2008, Obama had used social media research during the campaign, and used some automated ad research in 2012 but he had a strict policy of not attacking his opponents.
At that time Facebook apps had allowed data scraping firms to also collect data from Friends. That bears an ironic parallel to some of the recent deplatforming of people perceived to be “associated” with other dangerous individuals, and the recent epidemic of smearing persons as “fascists”.
Facebook stopped allowing this in 2015, but it seems that the damage was done.
The film focuses considerably on the narrative of Brittany, and the filmmakers traveled to Thailand where she was on her own retreat to interview her. Gradually she has to come to grips with the moral significance of working for the company, which collapsed after the scandal broke open in 208 when whistleblower Christopher Wylie with his orange hair (and he reminds me of Carlos Maza) testified.
The film has some sci-fi special effects. Buildings are shown disintegrating into dust as if a strangelet had hit the Earth.
5 I ask a question about the over-all business model for user-generated content
Picture: from Renwick exhibit on Burning Man, 2018/5
Name: “The Great Hack“
Director, writer: Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim
When and how viewed: 2019/6/23 AFI Docs Landmark S St sold out
(Posted: Monday, June 24, 2019 at 12:30 PM EDT)