Latest Cambridge Analytica leak points to involvement in Brazilian elections

. Jan 09, 2020
cambridge analytica Photo: Alexandra Popova/Shutterstock

The Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018 rocked the political world after whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed that the consulting firm—which worked for Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Leave.EU organization during the UK’s European Union referendum, both in 2016—had managed to breach Facebook’s user database and harvest the information of some 87 million individual profiles.

Now, a new document dump connected with the defunct company has uncovered a series of emails and reports linked to Cambridge Analytica’s work in a series of other countries, including Brazil.

</p> <p>Hosted on the Twitter account <a href="https://twitter.com/HindsightFiles">@HindsightFiles</a>, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser leaked <a href="https://twitter.com/HindsightFiles/status/1214039510859825153">zip files</a> on the company&#8217;s operations in Iran, Malaysia, Kenya, and Brazil, which mention that representatives of the consultancy came to Brazil to work with an unspecified presidential candidate in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections.</p> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/04/cambridge-analytica-data-leak-global-election-manipulation"><em>The Guardian</em></a> newspaper says further leaks are to come, with &#8220;more than 100,000 documents relating to work in 68 countries that will lay bare the global infrastructure of an operation used to manipulate voters on &#8216;an industrial scale.'&#8221;</p> <h2>HindsightFiles and The Brazilian Report</h2> <p>Among the documents uploaded by @HindsightFiles is a PDF copy of <strong><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2017/12/18/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brazil/">The Brazilian Report</a></strong><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2017/12/18/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brazil/">&#8216;s coverage of Cambridge Analytica&#8217;s arrival in Brazil</a>, before the Facebook data breach scandal was uncovered. In <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2017/12/18/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brazil/">the </a>article, reporter Ciara Long gives details—corroborat ed by the leaked emails—of Cambridge Analytica&#8217;s partnership with São Paulo-based marketing firm Ponte Estratégia, and the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2017/10/18/robots-brazil-2018-election/">audience-targeting strategy</a> of capitalizing on a &#8220;dissatisfied middle class,&#8221; which was seen as open to voting for a political outsider. One year after <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>&#8216;s story, Jair Bolsonaro was elected president on an anti-politics platform.</p> <p>Former Cambridge Analytica vice-president Steve Bannon left the company in 2016 to become U.S. President Donald Trump&#8217;s chief strategist, and after leaving the White House in 2017, he began meeting with right-wing populist figures around the world, including Jair Bolsonaro. In February of last year, Mr. Bannon appointed the Brazilian president&#8217;s son <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/05/17/eduardo-bolsonaro-brazil-diplomacy/">Eduardo Bolsonaro</a> as the South American leader of his right-wing <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/steve-bannon-european-parliament-the-movement-stuttering-european-adventure/">Movement </a>organization.</p> <p>These links have sparked suspicion in Brazil over the possibility of Cambridge Analytica working with Jair Bolsonaro during his election campaign, but the leaks released so far make no mention of the identity of the political figure, or figures, in question.&nbsp;</p> <h2>WhatsApp use in the Brazilian election</h2> <p>In <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>&#8216;s 2017 piece, journalist Ciara Long highlights the efforts of Ponte Estratégia consultant André Torretta in exploring the potential of WhatsApp Messenger as a political marketing tool. The platform—which is owned by Facebook—enjoys <a href="https://rctom.hbs.org/submission/zapzap-how-whatsapp-transformed-communications-in-brazil/">widespread use</a> in Brazil and is already a major source of news for citizens, with users sharing stories among their friend groups. Mr. Torretta claimed to have put together a platform analogous to WhatsApp, where users would be able to interact and share campaign content across all of their other social networks.</p> <p>The prospect of WhatsApp use in Brazil&#8217;s elections came to the forefront just before the crucial runoff stage of the 2018 vote. Major newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported that a string of companies had illegally hired social media marketing firms to <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2018/04/13/whatsapp-fake-news-elections/">send hundreds of millions of messages</a> to voters attacking Jair Bolsonaro’s rival, the Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad. Each “pack” of messages reportedly cost up to BRL 12 million and, if proven, would constitute illegal campaign financing.</p> <p>WhatsApp responded by deleting over 100,000 accounts in Brazil linked to spam and illegal activity, before its parent company banned 68 pages and 43 accounts known for posting<a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/06/21/brazil-fake-2018-election/"> fake news</a> in favor of Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <p>An investigation by the <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/16/power-fake-news-brazil-elections/">Superior Electoral Court</a> into the claims came up empty in December 2018, but was reopened in October of last year.

 
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