Trump campaign data firm Cambridge Analytica suspends CEO after boasts of entrapping politicians with bribes and sex
Alexander Nix: ‘[Ukrainian girls] are very beautiful. I find that works very well’
Facebook expressed outrage over the misuse of its data as Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the centre of a major scandal rocking the social media giant, suspended its chief executive.
The move to suspend CEO Alexander Nix came as recordings emerged in which he boasts his data company played an expansive role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, doing all of its research, analytics as well as digital and television campaigns.
In undercover filming captured by Britain’s Channel 4 News, he is also seen boasting about boasting about the firm’s willingness to use bribes, entrapment with sex workers and other possibly illegal tactics to undermine political candidates.
Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have demanded answers after it was revealed at the weekend that Cambridge Analytica improperly harvested information from 50 million Facebook users.
Cambridge Analytica has denied using Facebook data for the Trump campaign, but the scandal has ratcheted up the pressure on the social media giant – already under fire for allowing fake news to proliferate on its platform during the US campaign.
US media reported that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook over the data scandal.
Facebook said its top executives were “working around the clock to get all the facts”.
Nix was recorded on camera by reporters, who posed as potential clients looking to influence elections in Sri Lanka.
One of the firm’s services, Nix said, is facilitating a sting where a politician is approached by someone posing as a wealthy developer and offering a large amount of money in exchange for a kickback. Or the firm could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” he said.
Ukrainian girls, he said, “are very beautiful. I find that works very well.”
“Deep digging is interesting, but equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that’s video-recorded – these sorts of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption and putting it on the internet,” Nix said.
“I’m just giving you examples of what can be done, what has been done.”
Cambridge Analytica can also help sway elections by spreading disinformation about candidates.
“It doesn’t have to be true,” Nix said in one of the recordings.
“It just has to be believed.”
The executive also said his company used a self-destructing email server to communicate with clients to eliminate evidence of their contact.
In the Channel 4 report aired Tuesday, Nix claimed credit for the work done on Trump’s campaign, saying: “We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”
Nix claimed he had met Trump “many times”, while another senior member of staff said the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” said the executive.
“And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Cambridge Analytica has a history of dubious election tricks, and the firm has been prolific in securing international elections work – and often felt no need to hide its tactics.
Last year, Nix told Bloomberg News that his company was involved in as many as 10 campaigns for prime minister and president every year, including in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.
According to documents given to prospective clients, for a campaign in Latvia, the British affiliate of Cambridge Analytica known as SCL Group ran a disinformation operation designed to stoke ethnic tensions between Latvians and ethnic Russians, blaming Russians for unemployment and helping a nationalist candidate to victory.
But the firm’s effectiveness has long been in question.
While controversy has swirled around Cambridge Analytica’s role in helping Trump win the American presidency, it wasn’t until this week, when Nix’s latest comments aired, that the firm’s techniques caught up with him.
In an interview with the BBC on Monday, Nix denied claims that Cambridge Analytica engaged in improper tactics to sway elections, calling the allegations a coordinated attack by the media.
The firm said it doesn’t engage in the actions that Nix described and that Alexander Tayler will serve as acting CEO while the probe is under way.
The board said a full investigation into the comments and allegations will be led by UK lawyer Julian Malins.
“Mr Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation,” Cambridge Analytica’s board said in a statement.
The company blames the academic who developed the app, University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, for misusing the data, which it says was never used on the Trump campaign, and has in any event been deleted.
But Kogan said he was being used as a scapegoat in the row over online privacy.
“The events of the past week have been a total shell shock. My view is that I’m being basically used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” he said.
Meanwhile, European Union officials have called for an urgent investigation while British lawmakers have asked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence to a UK parliamentary committee.
Zuckerberg has been asked to appear before the European Parliament.
US lawmakers have also called on Zuckerberg to appear before Congress, along with the chief executives of Twitter and Google.
Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, The Guardian and Associated Press