News & Opinion

Carole Cadwalladr: Cambridge Analytica story has "broken through on a human level"

Having lifted the lid on Cambridge Analytica's use of Facebook data to sway elections, the journalist spoke to The Media Show about bringing the story to light and the response it's had.

Describing herself as a "features writer that accidentally went rogue", Cadwalladr explained that the expose is the result of over a year's worth of work, in which chatting to people was paramount: "It always comes from a person... that's what this whole story has come from, from chatting to people".

Bringing it to light via The Observer was "an amazing team effort" according to Cadwalladr, not helped by the amount of legal threats the paper received.

It’s Cadwalladr's view that there is a "moral vacuum which we've seen in Facebook's reaction ever since Trump’s election". Expanding on this, she says: "All the way along [Facebook] refused to acknowledge that there have been problems... that's been the amazing thing about this whistle blower, with pink hair, across every news channel, pointing the finger and saying 'I was there, I've got the receipts, I’ve got the documents, I've got the contracts, I was there. We know that the Facebook data was harvested, so tell us why you allowed that'."

She believes that technology journalism has a responsibility to report to the mainstream, as well as those interested in tech, adding: "The amazing thing here is how it’s broken through on a human level".

Also on the show, James Harding, former BBC news director and editor of The Times highlighted the need to understand the way that engineers put together algorithms: "Facebook is not faceless. It's a group of engineers, a group of people that are deciding to run an algorithm. And those algorithms are neither impartial nor neutral, they're made by people."

While Harding says that technology is "an amazing source for good, for love, laughter and the sharing of ideas", it's also clear that "there are areas where those powers are not being handled responsibly". He added: "Our job is to be doing a combination of what Carole's doing – uncovering the issues – but also then figuring out the ideas that are going to make for a better society."

Fellow guest, Harper's Bazaar's editor Justine Picardie said she feels "a huge sense of return to authenticity and integrity and real journalism".

Speaking at Ad Week Europe this week, Margot James MP, the minister for digital and the creative industries, said: "I must compliment The Guardian and Observer in particular for bringing this [Cambridge Analytica] story into the public domain and the detail they have done. It underlines to me the power of a free press and how we must support it and guard against its subversion at all costs."

You can listen to The Media Show podcast here.

by Jessie Sampson 22/03/18

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