The Race to Control the Voter: Big Data and the Transformation of the Election

Shannon Claire Forest, Bard College

Abstract/Artist's Statement

This project aims to describe the systemic problem of online surveillance as it impacts the individual voter. Technology that makes this possible, specifically the linking of voter registration lists with individual social media accounts, has led to a transformation of the American election. Campaigns are not able to send tailored advertising to every voter that has a social media account. Some of this messaging, like that used by the Trump campaign in 2016, is designed to keep unmotivated voters from going to the polls. Regulatory measures in France, specifically caps on campaign financing, the ban on campaign advertising, and strict data privacy laws, have prevented the widespread use of individual data to micro-target voters on social media that is present in the United States. This explains, in part, the reason why “global election management agencies”, which coordinate voter data and campaign strategy, have had a boon in the United States. Ultimately, regulations are not adequate to end corporate manipulation and capturing of individual data to generate profit. They may even serve to protect the government from the people, as this is a problem that is embedded in the principles of digital capitalism. Regulations do, however, help preserve the integrity of the institution of the election in the near-term and should be implemented.