Last night Facebook took the unprecedented step of not only banning Trump campaign data firm Cambridge Analytica, but making a point of announcing it in a Friday night press release. The social network’s stated reasons for the ban related to abuse of Facebook user data, and made no mention of politics or the Trump-Russia scandal. Now we know why Facebook made the sudden move last night.
Despite having publicly denied it in testimony to the UK Parliament and elsewhere, Cambridge Analytica had business dealings with the Russians prior to the 2016 election, according to a New York Times report published today (link). This cannot have been a coincidence. Facebook had to have known this story was going to drop today, and thus it spent Friday night trying to get out ahead of it. There are major questions about whether Facebook should have banned the company a long time ago, but the upshot is this: Facebook appears to believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The newly reported meetings and conversations involved Cambridge Analytica and a Russian oil company in 2014 and 2015. That’s before the firm took over voter data operations for the Trump campaign, and it doesn’t demonstrate that Cambridge Analytica was actually colluding with the Russian government with regard to the 2016 election cycle. But because the head of Cambridge Analytica has made a point of lying about these Russia meetings, it’s now fair to expect that he may have been trying to hide a lot more than a meeting with an oil company.
Facebook must have come to the same conclusion last night, and decided to quickly and publicly bust Cambridge Analytica for the user data abuse before anything uglier got reported about the firm. We still have far more questions than answers about what role Cambridge Analytica played in the Trump-Russia plot, but now we’re seeing an all too familiar development: yet another Trump-related individual met with the Russians and then lied about it to investigators. If the pattern holds, this will get very ugly for the company, very quickly. No wonder Facebook cut bait last night.