Facebook and the Spanish General Election

This seems like a bit of a strange question. After all, what has Facebook got to do with the Spanish General Election? And why is this of any consequence?

Well, the answer is simple: votes. In today’s world of mobile technology, where everything seems to be possible via “apps” and social media casts a wider net than traditional forms of advertising and political campaigning, the rules of warfare are somewhat different.

Gone are the days of politicians getting up on their soapbox and giving rallying speeches to the masses (well, not quite, but it’s going that way) and now it is the turn of social media spin to coerce voters into choosing one political party over another.

Facebook. Spanish General Elections 2019. Facebook

WhatsApp, the new player

Take the most recent regional elections in the Costa del Sol's Autonomous Community, Andalucía, for example.

According to an article published last week in El País1, the instant mobile messaging service WhatsApp – nowadays owned by Mark Zuckerburg’s Facebook – was used to reach thousands of potential voters ahead of December’s polls.

Far-right political party Vox’s social media team reportedly recruited 2,000 new supporters in a matter of days in summer 2018 thanks to its use of short video messaging, which spread like wildfire across platforms like WhatsApp.

Facebook. Spanish General Elections 2019. Whatsup used by political parties

Successful tactic

As you will know if you follow Spanish politics, this strategy turned out to be very fruitful for the extreme right-wing party, which caused an upset by scoring 12 seats in said Andalucian regional election.

And they’re not stopping there. With the Spanish General Election on the horizon, Vox – as well as all other political parties in Spain, it must be pointed out – are using social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to swing the public vote in their favour.

Password data breach

In other social media-related news, Facebook now has another data breach scandal on its hands after the findings of a cybersecurity investigation by independent journalist Brian Krebs were made public last week2.

Apparently, Facebook’s staff had access to between 200 million and 600 million Facebook users’ passwords since 2012. While this information was only visible to people within the firm, failing to encode the passwords means that its personnel had plain text (non-encrypted) versions of their users’ sensitive data, which many individuals use on other websites to access bank accounts, health and insurance data, for example.

To be clear, I’m not implying that all the company’s staff are hackers or cybercriminals. But if the history of data breaches is anything to go by, it only takes one person to cause a huge amount of damage and threaten users’ privacy: something that, ironically, Facebook preached about having put measures in place to safeguard in a press release less than three weeks ago3.

Facebook. Spanish General Elections 2019. Users data

So, has Facebook shot itself in the foot?

Well, yes and no. With regards to the most recent data scandal, the social media giant’s reputation has surely taken a big hit… especially after such a recent public declaration of a “privacy-focused” service. It remains to be seen whether it will be allowed to bury its head in the sand or whether it will ring institutional changes.

The good thing, as far as Facebook is concerned, is that the Spanish Senate approved a new data protection law before Christmas meaning political parties can collect social media users’ personal information for canvassing propaganda during their respective Spanish General Election campaign trails.

Facebook. Spanish General Elections 2019. Whatsup users campaign

Writer's thoughts

Besides appearing to be a blatant infraction of last year’s revised GDPR data protection guidelines, giving political parties carte blanche to disseminate their messages via “election spamming” and dubbed Bert and Ernie videos (I wish I was joking) seems like a recipe for disaster and doesn’t, in my book, promote well-informed and autonomous voting.

In a society where everything seems to be “open source” and our personal data (which we entrust to large corporate companies) is our last line of privacy, I just wonder whether more should be done at an institutional level to improve cybersecurity.

Do you, like me, think this is getting all too familiar? Or perhaps you disagree with me… in either case, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!


Sources:

1 https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/03/18/inenglish/1552900378_672737.html

2 https://www.verdict.co.uk/facebook-password-blunder/

3 https://www.facebook.com/notes/mark-zuckerberg/a-privacy-focused-vision-for-social-networking/10156700570096634/