A hit at the Sundance Film Festival, The Great Hack was expected to blow the minds of Netflix users as well. However, the global impact of the trailer appeared to be stronger than that created by the documentary itself.
Creation of Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim, the Netflix original gives an in-depth account of how data firms like Cambridge Analytica (CA) harvest and use public data through social media to sell user products, services or political agendas. It makes an apt use of the CA scandal to illustrate the data mining structures and algorithms that undermine user liberty and the democratic society.
Produced by Geralyn Dreyfous, Judy Korin and Pedro Kos, The Great Hack highlights how people’s perception was persuaded, during the 2016 Trump election campaign and Britain’s exit from the European Union. The movie debuted a new cut featuring additional interviews and footage. The directors — Amer and Noujaim — talk to experts, journalists and whistleblowers and former employees at the Cambridge Analytica.
Particularly moving around CA key player Brittany Kaiser, the film is also perceived to have portrayed a single-dimension perspective. Not just in the documentary; Kaiser is often regarded as a whistleblower, who highlighted how Cambridge Analytica, Trump and Facebook broke democracy in her book Targeted.
In the film, Kaiser says that the need is not to change everyone’s mind, but to target only the “persuadable”. She states that the way to identify them is not just through surveys or their purchases, but also how they think. Kaiser said that Cambridge Analytica could and did identify such people through harvesting personal data and persuade them.
However, the actual whistleblower Christopher Wylie appears in the movie to state that she is no whistleblower. Besides, he calls the data firm “a full-service propaganda machine”. Critics have also underlined that the documentary distracts viewers from the wrongdoing of Cambridge Analytica through endless scenes of Kaiser in cars, luxury hotels and airplanes.
It has been pointed out that The Great Hack is sort of a disappointment, as it portrays “a bad actor took advantage of lax controls at Facebook”, which remains a partial truth of Cambridge Analytica. Established by the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, the firm has been more than just data mining.
Ann Marlowe, in an op-ed on The Bulwark states that the firm “handled hacking elections, bribing foreign officials, getting them second or third passports, laundering their money, and dabbling in cryptocurrency”.
Apart from the fact, The Great Hack has also been reviewed to be poorly edited and lopsided. Some stated that it didn’t attempt “a balanced approach and has clips of racism”.
Chief film critic, Owen Gleiberman wrote on Variety that the film is “an intelligent but infuriating piece of liberal hand-wringing”.
Pat Brown wrote in the Slant Magazine, “It seems so invested in a rehabilitation of Brittany Kaiser’s image that the filmmakers’ own motives end up being its most interesting subject.”
The Netflix documentary has been rated 7.1/10 on IMdB, and has a current score of 68 on Metacritic.
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