Pros: Current topic; a look at events from the point of view of direct participants Cons: Some abuse of artistic means and infographics The Great Hack / “Big Hack”
Directed by Jehan Nujaim, Karim Amer
Year of release 2019
Director Jehan Noujaim and producer Karim Amer are no strangers to documentary films. This creative tandem worked on the documentaries Rafea: Solar Mama (2012) and The Square (2013). The latter, dedicated to the events of the Egyptian revolution of 2011-13, brought them an Oscar nomination. In the new film, produced with the support of Netflix, Nujaim and Amer explore the world of high technology and the vulnerabilities of democratic mechanisms.
And although everyone seems to have forgotten about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the mechanisms that Cambridge Analytica developed and used continue to be used in election campaigns around the world. You don’t have to look far for examples. The marketing campaign for the winners of the 2019 Ukrainian elections is an almost complete copy of the 2009 Do so! campaign carried out by SCL Group, the owners of Cambridge Analytica, in Trinidad and Tobago. (“Do it!”). The only difference is that in Ukraine it was necessary not to reduce, but to increase the turnout of protest youth. In addition, SCL Group specialists worked in the Ukrainian elections of 2004 in the team of Viktor Yanukovych. So everything shown in The Great Hack directly concerns you and me.
Let’s say right away that if you have been following the development of the scandal, you are unlikely to find anything new in this film; the facts presented in it are already generally known. The authors decided to make the documentary more personal and showed the events of 2018 from the point of view of three people directly involved in the events. These are The Observer journalist Carol Cadwalladr, who prepared revealing materials about Cambridge Analytica, US professor David Carroll, who tried through the court to request his personal data from the company, and SCL Group development director Brittany Kaiser, who became one of the main informants in this case and was responsible to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller regarding possible Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
This personal approach makes The Great Hack similar to the documentary film Icarus, dedicated to the role of Grigory Rodchenkov in the doping scandal associated with the Sochi Olympics. But, unlike Icarus director Brian Fogel, the authors of The Great Hack went a little overboard with artistic techniques, depth of field and beautiful angles that sometimes seem staged. In addition, the film contains too many infographics with social media posts, flying likes and digital noise. Such techniques, introduced into the filmmakers’ arsenal by the Sherlock series, look out of place in a documentary.
However, despite some shortcomings, The Great Hack is still worth watching. Yes, the generation that grew up in the Internet era is already accustomed to their data being used for marketing. Yes, the opinions of voters have been influenced before – in the Roman Empire, graffiti was used on walls when voting for elected positions; in Nazi Germany and the USSR newspapers and radio broadcasts were used to incite hatred; Now people are being zombified with the help of television and social networks. But never before have the tools in the hands of puppeteers been so precise and so effective. This is not a fictional cyberpunk from a computer game or a science fiction novel – this is already reality. And we need to talk about this as often as possible, and demand that legislators adopt initiatives that protect personal data.
And from that perspective, The Great Hack is doing important work. If at least some Netflix users think about the problem, perhaps things will move forward and property rights to digital personal data will become a reality. Let’s start with the USA and the EU, and other countries will catch up. At least that’s what I want to believe.
An important film for understanding our vulnerability to outside influence and the fragility of democratic mechanisms