I wasn’t going to write about this topic, as I see it as an obstructionist argument, and not one that focuses on solving the problem we face with social media. However, I was directly targeted with the argument by someone I know, and after thinking on it for several days, I couldn’t shake it–so I need to write about it. Otherwise I won’t be able to move on.
The argument is that people who didn’t question Obama’s election team for usage of social media, and are now solely questioning it because their team lost, are untrustworthy–making the argument that Obama did the exact same things as Trump, and this is purely a choosing sides discussion around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. With an emphasis on Obama having done the EXACT same thing as Trump, which is the element of this that has stuck with me, and I am unable to shake.
I guess we start with the fundamentals. The Trump team hired a 3rd party data team, outside of the normal RNC data operations, to target and influence voters. This team acquired data on some 50 million voters from a university researcher who had developed a social survey application which 270 users downloaded, but then was able to acquire the remaining data from friends of those users through the Facebook API. This researcher then violated the Facebook, terms of service in giving Cambridge Analytica the data, in which they used for micro-targeting of users with the Trump administrations message, in an effort to help them win the election.
Ok, so did Obama do the EXACT same thing in the 2012 election? Did they acquire social data to micro-target users, in hopes of influencing the election? Yes. Did they illegally acquire the data? No evidence points to the situation. Did they go outside of the RNC data operations? No evidence says so. Did they send comparable messages, use similar targeting tactics as the Trump campaign’s representatives? Fuck no. So yes, if you are willing to ignore many details, you can stick with your claim that the Obama administration did the EXACT same thing as the Trump administration by using social media to micro-target users during a campaign. This willful ignorance of how different of a situation we ourselves in right now, is particularly what I find so unacceptable about this argument, and the time we live in.
You see, fundamentally, 2012 and 2016 are not EXACTLY the same. Even if you did the exact same behavior, they are two different time periods. With so many data breaches in between, and with the stakes being much higher now. When we look at the targeting tactics and messaging of Obama v Trump campaigns, and how they used their social data–you will find very little being EXACTLY the same. That is, unless you are willing to ignore so much–which is the root of our illness. This is what makes this argument so dangerous, is that not only is it obstructionist, and prevents us from addressing the problem, it willfully ignores clear differences that many on “the other side” are so willing to pretend aren’t happening. Things that do not make these situations anywhere close to be similar, let alone EXACTLY the same.
Despite “the right” feeling like the brown man was coming for their guns, Christmas, and shove healthcare down their throats, the Obama election targeting message wasn’t threatening anyone, it was pushing for progress. Trump’s message to these Facebook users was all about targeting on race, gender, class, and all the hot button issues. Obama, targeted on the same data points, you say? Yes, I’m sure they did. There is that willful omission of reality again, he wasn’t inciting people to hurt you, exclude you, deport you, and isolate you based upon those data points. Obama was looking to deliver a nuance message around those data points, and Trump was looking to dive, incite, and separate on those data points–hardly, EXACTLY the same message. You don’t agree, well them I guess you don’t have any friends of color, or meaningful queer folk in your life–a lonely, isolated existence.
You know how I know the messages are different? In 2012, I was speaking to my family. While the topics around big government, 2nd amendment, healthcare, and other topics were uncomfortable, we were speaking. In 2016, the conversations were around Mexicans coming for their jobs and infiltrating with gangs, the Muslim people coming to kills us, the community college mass shooting down the street being false flag, queers and drug dealers should die, and how the jews running the deep state had rigged the election. We aren’t speaking anymore. I’d say the messaging this round deviated from being EXACTLY the same. I guess, unless none of these issues impact you, or anyone you care about in your circle. To me, nothing feels EXACTLY the same.
While I was speaking out against the usage of social media data in 2012, I know that my view of this practice is MUCH different in 2018, than it was in 2012. After being involved in the OPM, and Equifax breaches, I see data differently. After having my friends of color tell me how terrified they are, my latino friends all but disappear, and my queer friends worry their adoptions and marriages won’t be recognized, and someone I care about deeply begin to identify as queer face hatred–2018, feels anything but EXACTLY the same than 2012. Even if we were doing the EXACTLY same things in 2012 (which we weren’t), the stakes are higher, and more people are waking up. Sure, there is a lot of my teaming going on, but I’m guessing this is part of the game, and I’d point out that one of the team’s tactics have significantly shifted recently, throwing away most of their values for one last chance to be in power, and again, willfully being blind to the damage that is being done to other humans, and their friends.
After 2012, I was concerned for the state of things. After 2016, I will never be the same again. One thing I’m sure of, is that things are not EXACTLY the same between these events. My world has changed, and how the web, and social media plays a role, looks NOTHING like it did in 2012.