Surveillance, Big Data, Micro-Targeting and the Profiling of Western Electorates

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Jeffrey HUGHES, School of Management, University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom
The recent publicity surrounding the influence of the firm, Cambridge Analytica, on the 2016 US presidential election, and the Brexit referendum in the UK, has raised to public consciousness the larger roles played by data analytics in contemporary elections. The conventional wisdom, whether accurate or not, is that the modern political campaign needs to be “data driven” to consolidate existing support and to find potential new voters and donors. The capture and consolidation of these data permit the construction of detailed profiles on individual voters and the “micro-targeting” of precise messages to increasingly refined segments of the electorate, using the most efficient medium. The logic of ‘Big Data’ has clearly now penetrated electoral politics.

This paper is based on documentary and interview research (funded through the Big Data Surveillance project) and interrogates the influence of consumer micro-marketing techniques within the electoral arena within European parliamentary democracies, rather than the United States. We consider personalized “micro-targeting” on three levels: conceptual, organizational and technological. The segmentation of the electorate, using consumer profiling techniques, has a range of normative consequences that deserve to be analyzed through a surveillance lens. Mindful that the surveillance literature is driven by empirical work in criminal justice, the workplace, and consumption, the norms, dynamics and consequences of surveillance in this campaigning and electoral context are, and should be, different. The subject is the voter (or potential voter) rather than the suspect, the employee, or the consumer. Different subjectivities, we know, dictate different power dynamics, organizational relations, and technological practices.