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Did Cambridge Analytica actually perform ‘a great hack’? A talk with Dr. Dave Karpf

A quick note: this is probably the most important interview I’ve done, in the sense that the topics discussed are important to us as a modern society facing unique challenges, and also because I think more people should be aware of these topics. If you like this interview, please consider sharing it. 

On this episode of the People Who Read People podcast, I talk with Dr. Dave Karpf, a political scientist and associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. (Here’s Karpf’s Twitter.)

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about how Cambridge Analytica used access to the Facebook data of millions of U.S. citizens and advanced digital advertising wizardry to essentially “hack” Americans’ minds and deliver a surprise presidential victory to Donald Trump. This depiction of Cambridge Analytica as nefarious data geniuses has been portrayed in many news stories, and probably most prominently in the popular documentary The Great Hack (Netflix link).

But what if this perception is largely untrue? What if Cambridge Analytica was exaggerating their behavior-influencing abilities, as many companies do? And what if our perceptions of CA as geniuses of digital influence is based on people accepting their exaggerated claims uncritically?

That is the stance of political scientist Dr. Dave Karpf, and in this episode he explains why. Links to this episode:

Topics discussed include:

  • What the documentary ‘The Great Hack’ got wrong
  • Why public perception of the power of highly focused “micro-targeting” of digital advertising is largely overblown
  • Why political ads don’t have much effect on election results
  • The cost of being distracted by the wrong problems
  • The myth of the “attentive public” and how many of our political problems stem from politicians coming to realize that not many people are actually paying attention
  • Newt Gingrich’s role in “Trump”-style politics
  • The role of social media and the internet in politics
  • An incident where Dr. Karpf compared NY Times columnist Bret Stephens to a bedbug on Twitter, and how Stephens over-reacted and was mocked by both liberals and conservatives and eventually deleted his Twitter account

Related content or stuff we mention: