The Great Hack Review

The dark side of social media exposed

The two-hour long Netflix documentary, The Great Hack, exposes the dark side of Facebook and the data-based age that we live in today. Within its first 10 seconds, the documentary sucks you in, demonstrating how “crippling divisions” in society can all begin with the manipulation of one individual. It sheds light on how what we once thought would connect us has turned against us, polarising us in the process.

The Great Hack is directed by the Egyptian-American husband and wife duo Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim. This incredibly talented partnership was also responsible for the award winning The Square, a critically-acclaimed documentary that covered the 2011 revolution that began in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and led to the overthrow of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Noujaim also previously received international praise for Control Room, a documentary uncovering the relationship between Al Jazeera and the US Central Command during the invasion of Iraq. Released by Netflix on July 24, 2019, The Great Hack has already received rave reviews, with big expectations for awards on the horizon.  

The Great Hack discusses the British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica’s hacking scandal, and the role Facebook played in both the 2016 United States presidential elections and the Brexit referendum. In 2018, Cambridge Analytica, was discovered to have had access to millions of Facebook users’ personal data without consent and to have enabled political campaigns to weaponise that personal data to send targeted messages to influence these users’ political decisions. Through playing with the psychology of an entire country without consent or even awareness, Cambridge Analytica basically facilitated cheating in what should have been a democratic process.

The documentary kicks off with David Caroll, associate professor at the Parsons School of Design, explaining how user behavior is being accurately predicted and targeted by ads, thus setting the scene for the rest of the film. The issue of how that happens is the bigger problem. As Caroll puts it, once we make searches, the data does not disappear, “digital traces of ourselves are being mined into a trillion dollars a year industry. We are now the commodity.” 

“To send people personalized messages, you need their personal data. Cambridge Analytica claimed to have 5,000 data points on every American voter that was invisible. So how do you make the invisible visible?” asks Caroll. And with that begins the story of how the dream of a connected world tore everyone apart using data.

The film’s story moves forward with Brittany Kaiser, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica who chose to expose what really went on behind the company’s closed doors. “The truth is we didn’t target every American voter equally. The bulk of our resources went into targeting those whose minds we thought we could change. We called them the persuadables,” said Kaiser regarding US voters. 

This film is a must watch for any curious minds, eager to understand more about the social media world that we invest so much of our time and personal information in. Just be warned, after watching, you may be tempted to take a break from cyberspace.