When Facebook announced Monday that it had hired a digital forensics company to conduct an audit of Cambridge Analytica, the consultant that harvested the data of 50 million people without their permission, Facebook appeared to once again distance itself from the UK company.
In fact, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica worked side-by-side for the 2016 Donald Trump campaign at its digital operation in San Antonio, Texas—a year after the tech giant discovered that Cambridge Analytica had access to the Facebook users’ data in violation of the company’s policies. In a 2017 BBC report, Therese Wong, a “digital guru” for the Trump campaign walks journalist Jamie Bartlett through the San Antonio office, showing him the room out of which Cambridge Analytica operated—”the brain” of the operation, she says. Nearby were desks where Facebook employees sat embedded with the Trump campaign.
Wong said in the video that people from Google, YouTube, and Facebook were the campaign’s “hands-on partners” in helping utilize their platforms. “When you’re pumping in millions and millions of dollars to these platforms, you’re going to get white club [sic] treatment,” she said. “Without Facebook, we wouldn’t have won. I mean Facebook really and truly put us over the edge.”
Brad Parscale, a political newbie who created a database nicknamed “Project Alamo,” headed Trump’s digital operation and also used information from Cambridge Analytica and the Republican National Committee. Facebook helped disseminate its messages. Parscale has denied that Cambridge Analytica played a big role in helping Trump get elected.
Others have argued that Cambridge Analytica gets too much credit because few people know how its work may have affected the campaign. But its influence was not negligible. A 2016 Bloomberg feature from behind the scenes in San Antonio says Cambridge Analytica provided optimal locations for Trump rallies based on the locations of persuadable voters. Parscale used the firm’s statistical models to flood likely Trump supporters with Facebook ads.