An exposé by The Guardian on the Trump-connected Cambridge Analytica firm’s efforts to gather data on Facebook users has set off a media firestorm over the issue of creating digital profiles of people for the purposes of targeted campaigning. The only problem, as many have pointed out, is that the very same media now so concerned about such efforts repeatedly praised the Obama campaign for doing the same thing back in 2012.
In yet another soundbite she probably wishes she could get back, during President Obama’s second term, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters (CA) once touted Obama’s massive database, which she described as having “information about everything on every individual in ways that it’s never been done before.”
Her comment came during an interview on Roland Martin’s “Washington Watch” in which Martin brought up the fact that the Obama-era would end in 2016, so minorities “better get what you can while he’s there.” Here was Waters’ reply:
Well, you know, I don’t know. And I think some people are missing something here. The president has put in place an organization that contains the kind of database that no one has ever seen before in life. That’s going to be very, very powerful. That database will have information about everything on every individual in ways that it’s never been done before.
When conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh highlighted the clip on Monday, he noted that we mysteriously never heard Waters bring that glorious database up again and underscored the similarities with what Obama had done back in 2012 with what Cambridge Analytica is accused of doing in 2014.
Guardian’s exposé on the firm, which was published Sunday, suggests that data obtained from an analytics group on 50 million Facebook users’ profiles was used for targeted campaigning by the Trump campaign two years later. Cambridge Analytics denies the claim, maintaining that they did not use the data once Facebook complained that it was accessed in violation of its rules because the person who conducted the data mining initially claimed it was only for educational purposes.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, explained how the campaign was able to mine Facebook’s data in a way that employees for the company suggested they “wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
“Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing,” she wrote. “They came to [the] office in the days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
“I worked on all of the data integration projects at OFA. This was the only one that felt creepy, even though we played by the rules, and didn’t do anything I felt was ugly, with the data,” she added later. She also noted that she is “100% positive that Facebook activity recruits and staffs people that are on the other side.”
Below is the first tweet in the series, in which she highlights a Time article praising the Obama campaign’s data mining efforts: