Former President Barack Obama was the first to use social media to great effect in a political campaign. One of the ways that his campaign integrated social media was through requesting personal data from their supporters for the campaign. This, of course, consisted not only just of the user’s personal data but also that of their friends who had not consented to giving up their data.
In fact, the Obama campaign’s use of Facebook data was so exhaustive that, in a New York Times article written in 2013, it was revealed that it had set off internal alarms set by Facebook itself. The data granted to the campaign was so extensive that it included personal photos that the campaign then looked at to figure out who supporters’ real life friends were.
The campaign hid what the data was being used for until after they had won the election. They were worried that American citizens might be uncomfortable with ‘data mining.’ Perhaps they were not wrong. Maybe the average American should be uncomfortable with having their data collected without their knowledge to identify whether or not Democrats should ‘target’ them.
Regardless of whether or not this falls under the same level of unethical behavior as Cambridge Analytica — which is debatable — this behavior is still undoubtedly unethical. Obtaining someone’s personal data without their express permission is wrong. Using it to attain a political goal is worse.
Where, then, was the media when the Obama campaign was obtaining Facebook data of people without their permission? The media failed to mentioned the unethical behavior of his campaign. They were too busy praising Obama for his masterful use of social media to transform the nature of political campaigns.
This is the type of behavior that makes Trump’s accusations of “fake news” seem to at least have a ring of truth to them. Journalists should seek to find and expose unethical behavior wherever it can be found. But if they overlook such behavior when those who they support commit it, how are we to trust them?
Some will say, of course, that Obama’s actions were not unethical because his supporters knew that they were giving away data for political purposes. Perhaps Obama’s supporters should have changed their privacy settings so they didn’t give away data on their friends. This, of course, does not change the fact that Obama received data from unknowing and unconsenting Facebook users.
It is time to recognize that the mainstream media has set double standards for its coverage of issues.