‘The Great Hack’: Cambridge Analytica’s Weapons-Grade Communication Tactics


During Netflix’s documentary about Cambridge Analytica, called The Great Hack, a mention is briefly made about Cambridge Analytica (CA) using weapons-grade communication tactics. What was said and what does this mean? Read on to learn more.

Techniques Used by Cambridge Analytica Were Once Considered ‘Weapons-Grade’ in the UK

NetflixBrittany Kaiser

During her testimony to the Commons culture committee, Brittany Kaiser referred to Cambridge Analytica’s social media communications tactics as being “weapons-grade” communication techniques used against the UK. More specifically, she said that in the past, target audience techniques like those used by CA were so powerful that the government once considered them “weapons-grade,” The Guardian reported. In fact, as recently as 2014, Cambridge Analytica had to tell the UK if it was using those tactics abroad.

Kaiser said in her testimony: “The methodology was considered a weapon, weapons-grade communications tactics, which means that we had to tell the British government if it was going to be deployed in another country outside the United Kingdom.”

Damian Collins had to clarify the impact of what she was saying. Collins asked: “So what you are saying is that the proposal to Leave.EU [was] to use what you call weapons-grade communications techniques against the UK population?”

Kaiser clarified that by 2015, the company no longer had to tell the government if it was using target audience analysis overseas because the legal designation of the analysis had changed, The Guardian reported.

Kaiser’s full quote, as recorded by the House of Commons, reads:

I have had those concerns in the past because when I joined the company—I didn’t remember this, but upon reflection—I found documents from Nigel Oakes, the co-founder of the SCL Group, who was in charge of our defence division, stating that the target audience analysis methodology, TAA, used to be export controlled by the British Government. That would mean that the methodology was considered a weapon—weapons grade communications tactics—which means that we had to tell the British Government if that was going to be deployed in another country outside the United Kingdom. I understand that designation was removed in 2015.”

This underscores the seriousness of the techniques that Cambridge Analytica used. At one time, if the same techniques had been used abroad, they had to be reported to the UK government.

In February, a UK Committee Suggested Creating an Independent Body to Audit for These Techniques

In February 2019, the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee in the UK published a report called “Disinformation and ‘Fake News’: Final Report.” This report said that Facebook had “intentionally violated data and anti-competition laws,” PR Week reported. At the end, the report noted that groups like CA and SCL Group faced conflicts that resulted in their deploying “weapons-grade communications tactics” within the UK. According to PR Week, these include tactics like target audience analysis.

The report called for increased transparency and auditing by the government to ensure this doesn’t happen again. The report said, in part: “This raises the profound issue of whether companies [like CA] working on election campaigns overseas in this way should also be winning projects from the UK Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Commonwealth Office…”

The report suggested that the issue is so serious that the government should consider creating “an independent body, to ensure that their campaigns do not conflict with UK national interest and security concerns.”

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