Monday, July 29, 2019

“The Great Hack” Faces Up To Ethics and Technology in a Gripping Netflix Doc

By José Alberto Hermosillo
The Great Hack, poster courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Extraordinary and unnerving, the new Netflix original documentary “The Great Hack” is an exposé on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the manipulation of information that polarized voters through Facebook, and the misuse of data to undermine our democracy.  

The dream of a connected world became a nightmare when foreign organizations manoeuver the Brexit referendum in England and the 2016 elections in the United States, Brazil, and Myanmar. Those inconceivable victories left everyone astonished and powerless.
The Great Hack banner. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Facebook became the digital gangster of our time. When Americans learned the social network made millions selling their data to Cambridge Analytica, they stopped using Facebook for good.

Companies like Cambridge Analytica developed sophisticated campaigns ads targetting consumer's preferences accordingly to their likes, previous buys, web searches, credit cards swipes, and locations - all connected in real-time.

Digital traces of yourself became an asset tradable in the stock market. We, the people, were converted into a valuable commodity.
The Great Hack screening. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
Trading data developed into a trillion dollars industry. Today, data surpasses oil value. Scary? Not quite yet. Congress must act to shield elections, maintain the Country’s integrity, democracy, and national sovereignty.

“The Great Hack” openly inquires: who is feeding us with fear?

The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Searching for the truth, Academy Award nominees Karim Amer and Jehame Noujaim ("The Square"), through their investigation, discovered who was lying under oath by juxtaposing the Facebook participation with Cambridge Analytica, and Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress.
Jehame Noujaim, Karim Amer, directors of The Great Hack. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
Amer and Noujaim extraordinary documentary focuses on three whistle-blowers: David Carroll, a professor who was able to determine how the British company acquired user's information and proceeded to sue Cambridge Analytica in London. This lawsuit launched the popular hashtag campaign #ownyourdata.
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
Brittany Kaiser is another crucial witness in the case. Kaiser was an insider who got caught in the middle of all that information madness. Kaiser let people know what Cambridge Analytica was doing under the table. Before that, she served as a connection between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to get Hillary's emails. The scandal impacted millions of American voters. Kaiser emphatically remarked in the film: “Data is the most valuable asset on earth.”
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
British journalist Carole Cadwalladr is another key player who uncovered the information warfare used by Cambridge Analytica and its alliance with Facebook. But more than a “Ted Talk,” viewers need to see the other side of the story.
The Great Hack. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2019 Netflix.
The filmmakers of “The Great Hack” tried to take a global approach but avoid the presidential elections of Poland, Germany, and Mexico, countries where the problem had more ramifications and players. The first two countries contend with a growing extreme right, while the third has an equally riskily radical leftist. 

The Great Hack does not explain how France stopped the foreign intervention weeks before its election -  something the US has not able to accomplished years after its contentious 2016 decision.

Other crucial and related political documentaries worth mentioning are the Palme d'Or winner “Fahrenheit 9/11” in which Michael Moore interviewed members of the Congress who voted for the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. The Oscar® nominee “The War Room,” an intense broadcast of the people who ran the Bill Clinton campaign successfully in 1992. “Citizenfour” is the 2014 Oscar® winner about the surveillance scandal uncovered by Edward Snowden. Finally, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” is also an intricate documentary based on the creation of the equally controversial Julian Assange website Wikileaks.
Jehame Noujaim, Karim Amer, directors of The Great Hack. Photo  José Alberto Hermosillo ©2019 Festival in LA.
“The Great Hack,” accurately and effectively, communicates with “new information” regarding privacy, which can contrast or reinforce the viewer's fresh memories.

The paranoia of having Big Brother watching us begun in the 1960s and 1970s when experts studied the subliminal messages contained in TV ads. Nowadays, people are revealing so much information about themselves online that they become predictable enough for companies to influence people's decisions.

The Great Hack creates awareness of how we can use social media responsibly and how we can continue working for a place where technology and ethics can coexist harmoniously.

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Festival in LA ©2019

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