If you still harbor any doubt about social media being the most anti-social development since gunpowder, “The Great Hack” will delete it. The Netflix original documentary is an enlightening, unsettling and ultimately infuriating look inside the dirty world of personal data as a commodity.
The film tells the sordid story of how the infamous and now defunct British-based propaganda mill Cambridge Analytica weaponized the personal data of millions of Facebook users worldwide to help elect Donald Trump, rig the Brexit vote and undermine democracies around the globe. The scandal is revealed primarily through the voices of three main characters:
David Carroll, an American professor who sued Cambridge Analytica in the British courts for access to all information the firm had on him. CA boasted of mining more than 5,000 “data points” on every American registered voter. Throughout the film, Carroll battles to get the dirt on himself.
Carole Cadwalladr, a reporter with the Observer in London who broke the story in 2018 and spurred multiple investigations in America and Britain and proved yet again that independent, investigative journalism is the only true safeguard of democracy.
Brittany Kaiser, the former business-development director for Cambridge Analytica who went from campaigning for President Obama to selling her soul and skills as a conservative political operative waging war on her fellow Americans and her country’s oldest, staunchest ally.
Kaiser gets the most screen time, and gets off way too easy. The filmmakers take her often breezy “confessions” at face value without ever really challenging her about her key role in violating the core principles of privacy, democracy and fair play. She comes off as a bored AV Club kid who dug her claws into millions of innocent victims and is bummed about chipping her nail polish.
Also Kaiser made a ton of money selling out democracy. The filmmakers don’t seem to care about that, or understand why it matters.
Regardless, “The Great Hack” is an important — if incomplete — look behind the likes and tweets and searches that define us on a world market that sells our thoughts, beliefs and emotions like so many widgets off an endless assembly line. It’s worth watching and discussing with friends, online and off.