President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign used Cambridge Analytica data derived from Facebook to discourage nearly 3.5 million black voters from going to the polls and vote for Hillary Clinton.
That's according to Channel 4 News, which obtained a sophisticated database, almost 5 terabytes in size, which was compiled by the Trump campaign and contained personal details of approximately 200 million Americans.
The report claims that in the database, the Trump campaign disproportionately flagged black Americans with the label "Deterrence", meaning voters that they didn't want to cast ballots.
The database sorted all voters, described as ‘audiences', in eight categories so that they could be targeted with tailored ads on Facebook and other platforms.
Black Americans were targeted with negative ads in an effort to squash the turnout for Hillary Clinton. The ads shown to them included videos in which Hillary Clinton referred to black youths as "super predators".
The campaign's secret efforts in the run up to the 2016 election focused on 16 swing states, according to Channel 4 News, many of which were narrowly won by Trump.
For example, Trump won Michigan by 10,000 votes, where 15 per cent of the voters were black. In Georgia, despite black people constituting 32 per cent of the population, they accounted for 61 per cent of the ‘Deterrence' category.
Political analysts estimate that nearly 2 million black voters in the US who backed Barack Obama in the 2012 election did not turn out to support Hillary Clinton.
President Trump's re-election campaign described te Channel 4 News report as fake and said that they did not use any such database to target Black voters in US.
"President Trump has built a relationship of trust with African American voters because of the First Step Act's criminal justice reform, creating Opportunity Zones and his recently announced Platinum Plan to invest $500 billion in the black community," said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign.
The Trump campaign is said to have spent about $44m on Facebook ads in 2016 election, generating about 6 million advertisements in total.
Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved a $5 billion settlement with Facebook over the sharing of data with Cambridge Analytica. The FTC opened its investigation in March 2018 following claims that data from approximately 87 million Facebook users had been illegally acquired by Cambridge Analytica.
The company purchased the data from an academic who had created a Facebook quiz app that collected personal information, not only from consenting users, but also from their Facebook friends, without their knowledge. Cambridge Analytica collapsed in 2018 after losing most of its suppliers and customers following an exposé of its methods.
Facebook said that the elections and the company had changed over the past four years. The company stresses that it has introduced new rules in the recent years to prohibit voter suppression and to ensure that episodes like Cambridge Analytica are not repeated. However, critics argue that these measures are too little and too late.
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