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The Ethics of using Data Analytics in Elections

Sandra writes, whatever we do especially on social media is recorded and studied in comparison with that maybe millions of others, and the analytical tools can influence people’s choices by evading their rational thinking and pose an ethical threat.

In the age of data revolution, little we know how it actually affects us until the recent exposure of a scam by Cambridge Analytica, which was allegedly involved in the Trump’s election campaign. Data is now dubbed as the “new oil”. Those with the access to data will be the ones to hold power and elections are the main platforms of power struggles in a democracy.

As we know free and fair elections form the very backbone of a true democracy. Politicians approach the people with their agenda and the people make their choices using their rationale. This has been the case until recent times. Politicians are now using a game changer concept of “Big Data”. It is a tool used by policymakers and political scientists. A political system is highly volatile that requires constant updating and this system helps political parties to formulate or update their strategies. Political analytic companies often track interactions and preferences of people to analyze their behavior.

Hence, whatever we do especially on social media is recorded and studied in comparison with that maybe millions of others. These analytical tools can influence people’s choices by evading their rational thinking and pose an ethical threat. Thus, [1]politicians can now formulate their campaigns and agenda aiming at different groups by projecting different versions of them. Doesn’t this in a way deprive people of their freedom to choose, as the set of options given to them is already preconditioned to their preferences which are forcing them to do what they otherwise would not? [2]We already have heard of political agendas such as hate spreading in the name of caste, religion or race. Promising different things to different groups of people is a strategy that has been used by politicians for years [3] but using such methods to appeal to the masses is a very new concept of which blurs the lines of morality.

It may sound quite futuristic, but we must know better, in fact, there has been evidence of politicians using Big Data in Indian elections as well. This poses a threat to the social and political order of our society.

In most countries, there are data protection laws for the online social media forums which make them responsible for their user’s data. It is important to obtain the consent of the users on how much they are observed. Indeed, politicians do need to find what resonates well among the masses but the very idea of having machines analyzing people and reducing them to forms of codes and numbers takes away the humanity involved in the process. People and their ideas and feelings are aspects that are central to democracy but the removal of these would leave behind a soulless mechanism that has the framework of democracy. Indeed, politicians do need to find what resonates well among the masses but the very idea of having machines analyzing people and reducing them to forms of codes and numbers takes away the humanity involved in the process. People and their ideas and feelings are aspects that are central to democracy. But removing them would take away the very soul of democracy.

End Notes:

[1] Hacker, Kenneth L. “Ethical Dilemmas in the Use of Big Data Analytics (BDA) In Affecting Political.” ResearchGate (2013).

 

[2] Koopman, Colin. “How Democracy Can Survive Big Data.” New York Times 22 march 2018.

 

[3]

Darrow, Barb. “Is Big Data Killing Democracy?” 15 September 2017. Fortune. 6 6 2018.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “The Ethics of using Data Analytics in Elections

  1. Nitya says:

    Well written Touches the heart of the issue.

    Reply
  2. Shuchi says:

    Explains effectively a 21st century issue.

    Reply

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