Stop Blaming Christopher Wylie: The Oven isn’t the Problem

Many people are missing the point, Christopher Wylie’s whistleblowing—and that it occurred after the election—is the proverbial equivalent of J. P. Oppenheimer’s reflection on the detonation of the first atomic bomb, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” from the Bhagavad Gita. Essentially you’re asking for Wylie to have known, before the election, the complete picture of what was going on, how the data and the algorithms applied to that data, was going to influence the election. Seeing users call him a “traitor” for his role in the election of Donald Trump, and the damage to LGBT advances, as a result, is ludicrous.

To make him the scapegoat for the Donald Trump presidency and subsequent problems that has created is to say that Wylie should have been able to take one theoretical use case from start to finish and see it’s ultimate outcome. Which is hardly fair, hardly critical, and is frankly only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the way that the data and applied algorithms could be used. Just as easily it could have been applied to secure marriage equality, change the way the public views PREP, reduce HIV infection and promote testing to curb the epidemic, is one of the many, many possible uses of such data. That it could be used to elect a president, one so horrible for LGBT rights is only one horrible use case.

All of which comes to a point, the theoretical applications of this are limitless, and you’re choosing to attack him for, effectively, being naive about the reality of what he was doing and the power that it would allow political campaigns to exert.

Instead of seeing that it was a multipronged problem—social media usage has inherent vulnerabilities in how user data is made available to companies, the lack of care or consideration that companies may exhibit in their use and storage of that data, and the carelessness that we have as social media users in understanding just what we are agreeing to as we take quizzes, play games, and get free stuff. Which is not to mention the overarching problem of social media platforms in which the data you are sharing isn’t just your own, but also the data of everyone you are associated with. That—as I don’t know anyone on social media who haven’t taken a quiz, played a game, or otherwise used an app—you are ultimately consenting on behalf of everyone you are associated with to making their data, as well as your own, part of an ever-growing database. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, your friend’s mom has done it, and we are, in effect, “frenemies” with everyone we’re attached to on social media platforms.

Yeah, that personality test was fun. Yeah, that farming game is great. Yeah, that birthday reminder is helpful. But, with that cool free thing came a cost. The opportunity for a business, like Cambridge Analytica, to access and exploit every one of your online friends for profit. We did this to ourselves, we allowed this to happen, we exchanged our data, and the data of our friends and families, like Hansel and Gretel chowing down at the witch’s table. Instead of blaming the witch and acknowledging our role in getting into the situation, taking our own responsibility, we’re blaming the oven?