Cambridge Analytica’s Impact on the EU Referendum

Labour Party

Following Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago, a conference held last night with influential speakers, some of whom were directly involved in breaking the Cambridge Analytica news story, in which delegates were told about the lengths to which the now dissolved company went to in order to achieve the results it was being paid to get.

Among the speakers were Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian journalist who was one of the first to break the story, Christopher Wiley, the former Cambridge Analytica employee and whistleblower, and Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner.

Although we have heard his story before, listening to Wiley’s account was nevertheless chilling. Cambridge Analytica took personal data from Facebook users and exploited it to skew democratic elections and referendums. Wiley described this situation as a “New Online Cold War.”

Specifically, in relation to the EU referendum, Wiley told MEPs about a tangled web of influence across the Atlantic. Both Leave campaigns were connected to Cambridge Analytica and its subsidiaries. However, Wiley pointed to possible breaches in UK electoral law, as there were connections with other groups such as BeLeave, Veterans for Leave, and even the DUP – the very party which the UK Government has formed a coalition with.

Whatever the result of the various investigations taking place into the Leave campaigns, the big tech companies will have questions to answer. It was known well before the 2016 EU referendum and US Presidential Election that Facebook users’ data could be manipulated in this way.

Cadwalladr expressed her frustration as a journalist, with the denial and lack of complete answers from tech companies – a sentiment shared by many in Brussels after Zuckerberg’s evasive testimony in the European Parliament two weeks ago.

Equally, in her view the European Parliament has the opportunity to get answers from Nigel Farage and Gerard Batten, the current leader of UKIP, who also avoid questions from journalists investigating the case.

Only the EU has the economic and political clout to take on these internet giants. From competition rules to copyright, and now to defending our democracies, the EU is able to stand up to huge companies like Google and Facebook and make them play by the same rules as everyone else.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

“Ed Miliband is talking like a Prime Minister… for the first time”, said Tony Parsons in last week’s Mirror.

He had been talking about the difficult issue of immigration and the speech at the Institute of Public Policy Research marked a turning point for the Labour leader. Parsons said: “When Ed Miliband talked about ­immigration with such sensitivity and intelligence, for the very first time I could imagine him as Prime Minister.”

It was an impassioned speech, and Miliband suggested we should approach the issue in a rational, focused and calm way: “The debate we must get to is a grown-up debate, informed by the facts, serious in intent, and conducted in a candid way.”

He approached the subject in the right way, and chose the right words. As Parson’s pointed out: “Talking about immigration at all takes bravery, as it is a complicated subject.” You can read his full op-ed here, and the full transcript is here.

Last week the actors union Equity wrote to 43 theatres highlighting the need for better employment opportunities for women.

The letter was sent following analysis of Hampstead theatres current season which includes:  Henry V and a Winter’s Tale from the company Propeller, an all-male theatre company, which reflects Shakespeare having written for a company of boys and men. This may be so but let us not forget, Fiona Shaw once played Richard II, Vanessa Redgrave Prospero and Kathryn Hunter played Lear.

Only through encouraging new and emerging talent will this end. A new generation of female writers such as Lucy Prebble, Chloë Moss and Abi Morgan will, we hope, go to some lengths to achieve this.

Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, has recently been appointed chief of the Royal Court in London. She supports the idea that the problem of women’s representation on stage can be solved only through a new type of theatre and new writing, she said:  “Tired old programming of old British plays is becoming more and more redundant. It is through new plays that we can represent the world we actually live in.”

Read the full article in the Guardian here.

While Equity addresses its issues of poor female representation in theatre, Facebook announced its first female board member last week. Sheryl Sandberg chief operating officer at Facebook, has joined the social network’s board of directors, becoming the first woman to do so.

The announcement followed criticism that Facebook’s board lacked women and minorities. The company was called out for the board demographic makeup by a group called the FACE IT Campaign.

Zuckerberg had told The New Yorker last July when asked about why there were no women on the board that he was focused on “finding ‘helpful’ people and not concerned with gender.”

If only you knew what really goes on in the European Parliament

Labour Party

One of the things I have found most frustrating in my 10 years as an MEP is the seeming impossibility of getting information on the EU and what we do as MEPs out to a wider audience.  Indeed, one of the reasons I started this blog was to put forward my, and the Labour Party’s, perspective on the European Parliament.

However, we now have a potentially much bigger fish in the form of a report about European Parliament and EU communication.  Currently before the Culture and Education Committee, this report written by Danish MEP and former journalist Morten Lokkegaard, tells us unequivocally that “access to information for citizens and communication between policy-makers and voters are central elements” to our democracy and that  we need clearer explanations of the local, national and European implications of laws and policies being considered in Brussels.

Mr. Lokkegaard goes on to say “politics and communication are two sides of the same coin. Consequently a problem arises if politics fails to be communicated properly. It is in this context that the EU faces its greatest challenge.”

These are very much my own views which the majority of my colleagues would also agree with.  I would even go so far as to say many of us are desperate for our, i.e. EU and Euro Parl, news to become mainstream and raised out of its current Euro ghetto.

Lokkegaard has some serious thoughts. In an imaginative proposal, the report puts forward the idea of setting up a group of correspondents from among the specialised, accredited journalists in Brussels, whose role would be to cover European news in a more instructive manner while guaranteeing editorial independence. It also calls for public broadcasting to include European news to tell people more about the decision making process in the European Union.

No report of this kind would be complete without mentioning the “new” media. Lokkegaard seeks to expand the role of interactive media – Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  While agreeing these forms of communication have their place, the report warns the EU and European Parliament to tread delicately in this area. It stresses “although social networks are a relatively good way of disseminating information rapidly, their reliability as sources cannot always be sufficiently guaranteed and they cannot be considered to be professional media”.  It also “underlines that the way in which data is handled on social network platforms can in many cases be dangerous and give rise to serious breaches of journalistic ethics and that caution is therefore required when taking up these new tools.”

The report therefore calls for a code of ethics for this new type of media to be drawn up, something I would definitely support.  The internet has now reached the stage in its development when we have to consider regulation, both self regulation and, where needed, binding legislation.

Morten Lokkegaard has produced a thought provoking report with plans for concrete action. I hope it will encourage us all to think about how we communicate both what we are doing and why we are doing it.  If this were to improve, some MEPs such as myself may feel less frustrated at the seeming lack of interest and knowledge about what actually goes on in the European institutions.

Seasons Greetings

Labour Party

I am going to be taking a break from the blog for a while over the festive season.  I will be away on holiday for the Christmas period will then have my elderly father for the New Year.  As the European Parliament does not reconvene until 11 January, I do not anticipate blogging on a daily basis before then.  I may, however,  still put up a post if something noteworthy happens.

Many thanks to all my readers, over 70,000 this year.  Thank you to the many people who have commented; early in the New Year I will receive my 1,000th comment.  One of the reasons for taking a break is that I do regularly check for and approve comments which means I am “on-line” seven days a week and at several different hours of the day.  So if you have a comment in the next few weeks it may take a while to appear.

My thanks to all my readers on Facebook and for all their comments and feedback as well.


Women's Rights

The Evening Standard today published THIS article about cosmetic surgery adverts on the tube.

Posters featuring a young woman who has undergone plastic surgery have been defaced and a Facebook Group – Somewhat Strident But Who Cares – have featured photos of these vandalised adverts.

I must say I support the aims of Somewhat Strident But Who Cares.  You will see my quote at the end of the Standard article.  I have campaigned for many years to end the stereotyping of images of women.  My blogs on Ryanair’s sexist calendars and the European Commission’s use of a scantily clad farm girl in their publicity are just two recent examples.

Since Somewhat Strident But Who Cares have assured me they do not do anything illegal, I have joined their Facebook Group.  It would be good if readers of this blog would do the same.


UPDATE This is also covered in today’s Metro.