Cambridge Analytica: Perverting Democracy Worldwide?

- Advertisement -

The political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica does a worldwide business and is facing questions over whether it used personal data to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.

It’s reach extends well beyond the UK and US, with its website boasting of supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents.

The company has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix, who was filmed as part of UK TV news investigation giving examples of how the firm could swing elections around the world with underhand tactics such as smear campaigns and honey traps.

The UK-based company, which denies any wrongdoing, has an extensive record of work abroad. Here’s what we know about it.

As part of the Channel 4 investigation, executives said Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than 200 elections across the world, including in the Czech Republic.

“We’ve just used a different organisation to run a very, very successful project in an Eastern European country where… no-one even knew they were there,” company executive Mark Turnbull said.

Cambridge Analytica’s website also says it was involved in political campaigning in Italy in 2012, on behalf of a “resurgent political party last successful in the 1980s.”
“CA’s suggested reforms allowed the party to perform beyond its initial expectations at a time of turbulence in Italian politics,” it says.

But the role of SCL goes back much further. It claims to have helped the Orange Revolution in 2004 in Ukraine which helped bring the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power. “SCL succeeded in maintaining the cohesion of the coalition to ensure a hard-fought victory,” an old post on the SCL website reads.

More recently, SCL says it was hired by the Ukrainian government to provide “localised communications campaigns” to help them win back control of Donetsk during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“The final project report was delivered to the President of Ukraine…this report was pivotal in later national decisions,” the company says.

Cambridge Analytica was used twice to help secure victory for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – first in 2013, then again in 2017. Officially, the company’s website boasts of doing in-depth research to uncover the issues driving voters in the country.

But Mr Turnbull told Channel 4 their input actually went much further.”We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” he said.

Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has downplayed the impact of the group, saying it employed the company’s parent company, SCL, to help with branding. But the country’s main opposition coalition – the National Super Alliance (Nasa) – has called for a full investigation to be carried out.

“This was a criminal enterprise which clearly wanted to subvert the will of the people through manipulation, through propaganda,” official Norman Magaya told the BBC.

In July 2017, Cambridge Analytica revealed that it had teamed up with a phone app in Mexico and Colombia called, which gives users free service in exchange for watching adverts and taking surveys.

The firm was hoping to use data mined from to help a candidate in Mexico’s July 2018 presidential election, according to Bloomberg. “There’s a huge opportunity in this country to find the issues that are important for people and actually turn people out to vote,” Cambridge Analytica’s vice-president of business development, Brittany Kaiser said.

Separately, it was reported in October that the head of operations for Cambridge Analytica in Mexico, Arielle Dale Karro, had posted an advertisement on a Facebook page for foreigners living in the country.

The post sought people “with significant political experience” who were interested in becoming a campaign manager in one of eight Mexican states, Buzzfeed reported.

Cambridge Analytica later denied that Ms Karro was carrying out any political work for the firm. Mr Nix also stated that “Cambridge Analytica is not working for any political party in Mexico”.

Cambridge Analytica was reportedly “prospecting for clients in Brazil’s presidential race” that is due to take place later this year.

CA Ponte, a partnership between Cambridge Analytica and Brazilian consultancy firm Ponte Estrategia, “had been in touch with representatives of three potential candidates”, according to Bloomberg.

The partnership’s director André Torretta told the El Pais newspaper [in Portuguese] that he had been approached by two presidential campaigns but had not reached a deal with either.
Cambridge Analytica is part of the India branch of the SCL group which offers “political campaign management” among its services.

It lists India’s two main political parties – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress – among its clients.

Himanshu Sharma, the firm’s vice president says on his publicly available LinkedIn profile that the company has “successfully managed four election campaigns for the BJP.”

He names among them the 2014 general election which swept Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power.
But the Congress party has told the BBC that it has never used SCL or any of its affiliate companies as it has its own data analytical team.

He declined to be interviewed after the undercover footage was broadcast
In the Channel 4 investigation, Malaysia was named as one of the countries in which Cambridge Analytica had operated.

A member of the country’s opposition party is now calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to reveal if he used the firm in the 2013 general election.

“Prime Minister Najib Razak must explain if he used Cambridge Analytica to manipulate voters… and whether he is using unethical manipulation techniques in the upcoming [election],” Wan Saiful Wan Jan said in a statement.

Mr Razak has denied using the company, although its website says it supported his party “with a targeted messaging campaign highlighting their school improvements since 2008.”

- Advertisement -