Britain's Cambridge Analytical is shutting down in the wake of its Facebook privacy scandal and German justice minister Katarina Barley is calling for the social media site to crack down on personal data abuse.
But one big-money Republican political consultant tied closely to San Diego's GOP Lincoln Club and Chamber of Commerce who has been working on behalf of the reelection bids of city council members Chris Cate and Lorie Zapf asserts that curtailing Facebook with privacy reforms is not in his party's best interest.
"If Hillary Clinton had won the election as well as the media’s coronation, would we even be debating a new regulatory scheme for social-media advertising, and would Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg be appearing before Congress this week to be grilled about his company’s role in the 2016 election?" asks Chris Wilson in an April 9 opinion piece penned for the Wall Street Journal.
"We know the answer. Regulation is considered only when Republicans become innovative enough to surpass Democrats in digital campaigning," writes Wilson, now CEO of the political consulting group WPAi. He was Ted Cruz's director of research and digital strategy for the 2016 presidential primaries, in which the Republican senator from Texas ultimately lost out to Donald Trump.
"Social media was a godsend for Republican campaigns," continues Wilson's Journal piece regarding the 2016 election. "Online networks allow conservatives to communicate to voters without the filter of liberal media."
He adds, "An internal Facebook memo obtained by Bloomberg News claims the GOP is using Facebook better than its Democratic opponents."
Wilson's company is currently practicing his online wizardry for two independent expenditure committees set up by the Lincoln Club on behalf of Cate and Zapf. Each group has separately reported spending a bit over $35,000 apiece for "polling" services provided by WPAi, according to two April 25 disclosure filings.
But the firm boasts on its website that it mixes traditional polling with what critics say are dark arts of the Internet. "Don’t talk abstractions or count on 'e-mail blasts' and broad messages, talk directly to individuals about what matters most to them."
WPAi says that its trove of data from Facebook and elsewhere can be deployed to drill down on individual voters favoring highly specific hot-button causes, including those "opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants" and "voters concerned about preventing unidentifiable Syrian refugees from threatening national security."
"As director of data and digital strategy for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, I developed methods to send microtargeted messages to voters on a variety of issues, using Facebook as a primary medium," says Wilson in his op-ed piece.
In a subsequent interview with Agence France-Presse, Wilson argued, "If we push too hard and Facebook changes their rules so that we can’t do the same things as Netflix or Spotify at the individual level, that would be sad for the future of democracy.”
Joseph Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology, told AFP that if Facebook limits access to confidential user data by campaigns, “They won’t be able to target on a granular basis. That’s not a bad thing, but campaigns hate it because it costs more money.”
In addition to cash from the Lincoln Club and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, contributions have included $10,000 from the Building Industry Association of San Diego PAC to the Cate committee and $20,000 to the Zapf group, both March 9, filings show.
The Lincoln Club's committee for Cate, who continues to face questions from the state attorney general's office about last year's controversy over his leaking of a confidential city memo to lobbyist contributors, has spent $175,728 this year through April 21, filings show. The GOP group's effort for Zapf reported expenses of $97,128.