During an interview on TODAY Monday morning, Christopher Wylie, a former employee of U.K.-based data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, revealed the company worked with two key Trump campaign aides prior to President Donald Trump’s candidacy.
“Cambridge Analytica was meeting with Corey Lewandowski in 2015 before Trump had even announced and offering the services that I’m talking about right now,” Wiley said, referring to Trump’s first campaign manager.
Wiley also confirmed what a New York Times investigation revealed over the weekend, that Cambridge Analytica “harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission…making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.”
The data obtained through Facebook was used to microtarget specific voters in order to persuade them to vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
As Wylie described it Monday morning:
This data was used to create profiling algorithms that would allow us to explore mental vulnerabilities of people and then map out ways to inject information into different streams or channels of content online so that people started to see things that may or may not be true. This is a company that took fake news to the next level.
Not only was that data used for microtargeting voters, Wiley claimed, but by tracking the response to those messages in real time on social media, the firm could advise the campaign where Trump should visit and what words would resonate most with voters in the region. In fact, Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for President Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, told Bloomberg in late October of 2016, “I wouldn’t have come aboard, even for Trump, if I hadn’t known they were building this massive Facebook and data engine. Facebook is what propelled Breitbart to a massive audience. We know its power.”
Bannon previously served as Cambridge Analytica’s vice president before joining the Trump campaign.
The firm, which is backed by billionaire conservative donor Robert Mercer, is already under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible connections to Russian interference in the election. It’s also under investigation by the U.K. Parliament for potential violations of data privacy and claims it did illegal work for the pro-Brexit campaign.
Facebook, in an unprecedented move Saturday, moved to suspend Cambridge Analytica from the social media site following the bombshell reports about the data breach. Facebook VP and deputy general counsel Paul Grewal has accused the firm of running “a scam and a fraud,” as he described it to the Times. However, he pushed back on claims of a data breach.
“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false,” Grewal said in a statement.
Wiley was also banned from Facebook this weekend.
— Christopher Wylie (@chrisinsilico) March 18, 2018
As ThinkProgress has previously reported, the full extent of Cambridge Analytica’s role in the controversy is unlikely to be known until Mueller completes his investigation.