Back in March, calls to #DeleteFacebook were heard around the internet after reports broke that the social media platform allowed data-mining and political consulting site Cambridge Analytica to access users’ information. This is alarming on its own, but the data breach apparently even potentially influenced the 2016 presidential election: recent reports indicate that the company used fashion brands to help Donald Trump become president.
Business of Fashion reports that former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie, who helped expose the data breach earlier this year, presented at BoF’s annual Voices conference on November 29th. Wylie discussed the ways in which the firm used Facebook users’ fashion tastes to determine who to target with pro-Trump ads.
According to Quartz, Wylie revealed that there’s a correlation between certain brands and some of the Big Five personality traits—extraversion, openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. For example, he told the crowd that Facebook users who like brands such as Wrangler or L.L. Bean tend to be more conventional, while someone who likes Abercrombie & Fitch tends to be more open. Cambridge Analytica used this information to target specific users with pro-Trump ads.
Wylie stressed that fashion is a crucial component of who we are, which has political implications. The whistleblower didn’t mince words, saying that fashion data helped former Trump campaign executive Steve Bannon “build his insurgency and build the alt-right.”
In his talk, he also called on the clothing and textiles industry to take action to prevent other companies from doing what Cambridge Analytica did. To help, he recommended that brands change their messaging to show more diversity.
We’re glad this egregious practice is coming to light, and we hope Facebook works to undermine the damage it caused—because the 2020 election is quickly approaching.