A new documentary shows top executives from Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm being investigated by Britain’s Information Commission after allegedly harvesting 50 million people’s Facebook information, claiming to have masterminded Donald Trump’s election campaign.
“We did all the research,” Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix says, unaware that he’s being secretly filmed. “All the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign, and our data informed all the strategy.”
Britain’s Channel 4 News sent undercover reporters to probe Cambridge Analytica’s shadowy involvement in elections around the world. A fixer for the news organization pretended to be a wealthy Sri Lankan businessman, and potential client. Since Channel 4 News’ first video was published yesterday, Nix has been suspended from the company, pending an independent investigation, according to a statement from Cambridge Analytica’s Board of Directors today.
Yesterday, Channel 4 News’ exposed Nix and two other executives, Chief Data Officer Alex Tayler (now acting CEO) and Managing Director Mark Turnbull, claiming to have swayed political and non-political elections in countries like China, Brazil, Australia, and Kenya.
But new video evidence reveals how the cryptic company claims to have swayed America’s 2016 presidential election.
According to Channel 4 News, Cambridge Analytica allegedly boasted of winning the election for Trump, by accessing the names and email addresses of 230 million Americans. “For each, they could access thousands of layers of personal information,” used to craft custom messages for influencing voters, the news organization says.
We don’t know how Cambridge Analytica acquired this specific data, or if it’s related to its collection of 50 million people’s Facebook information.
“When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million votes, but won the electoral college vote, that’s down to the data and the research,” Tayler says on camera. “You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.”
It’s entirely possible that Cambridge Analytica executives may have exaggerated their involvement in Trump’s election campaign to woo a new client. But a particular conversation about Super PACs—which, according to US law, cannot coordinate with an official election campaign—has the Campaign Legal Center, an American nonprofit that focuses on election law, alleging that Cambridge Analytica acted as “a conduit for sharing information between the Super PAC and the Trump campaign, and that is illegal,” Brendan Fischer, director of federal and FEC reform at the nonprofit, told Channel 4 News.
During one meeting, Turnbull even claims that Cambridge Analytica created the “Defeat Crooked Hillary” slogan that permeated much of Trump’s campaign. He proudly recalls the firm designing the two Os in “crooked” to resemble a pair of handcuffs, and then seeding the artwork on the internet.
“Sometimes you can use proxy organisations who are already there. You feed them,” Turnbull said on camera.
“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding—so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Perhaps most damning is Nix’s description of his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee. Republicans, he claimed, asked him three questions—”Five minutes, done,” Nix said. He then urged to the fixer to open an account with ProtonMail, an end-to-end encrypted email service, and set his messages to self-destruct.
During Channel 4 News’ final meeting with Nix, he more or less called Trump a puppet of those responsible for organizing his campaign.
“The candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team,” Nix says.
“So the candidate is the puppet,” asks the fixer.
“Always,” Nix replies. “But in every election, or nearly.”