And I spent months tracking down an ex-employee, Christopher Wiley. And he told me how this company, that worked for both Trump and Brexit, had profiled people politically in order to understand their individual fears, to better target them with Facebook ads. And it did this by illicitly harvesting the profiles of 87 million people from Facebook.
It took an entire year’s work to get Christopher on the record. And I had to turn myself from a feature writer into an investigative reporter to do it. And he was extraordinarily brave, because the company is owned by Robert Mercer, the billionaire who bankrolled Trump, and he threatened to sue us multiple times, to stop us from publishing.
But we finally got there, and we were one day ahead of publication. We got another legal threat. Not from Cambridge Analytica this time, but from Facebook. It told us that if we publish, they would sue us. We did it anyway.
Facebook, you were on the wrong side of history in that. And you were on the wrong side of history in this — in refusing to give us the answers that we need. And that is why I am here.
To address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg…and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey, and your employees and your investors, too.
Because 100 years ago, the biggest danger in the South Wales coal mines was gas. Silent and deadly and invisible. It’s why they sent the canaries down first to check the air. And in this massive, global, online experiment that we are all living through, we in Britain are the canary.
We are what happens to a western democracy when a hundred years of electoral laws are disrupted by technology. Our democracy is broken, our laws don’t work anymore, and it’s not me saying this, it’s our parliament published a report saying this.
This technology that you have invented has been amazing. But now, it’s a crime scene. And you have the evidence. And it is not enough to say that you will do better in the future.
Because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the truth. And maybe you think, “Well, it was just a few ads. And people are smarter than that, right?”
To which I would say, “Good luck with that.” Because what the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy — spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash, from God knows where. It’s subversion, and you are accessories to it.
Our parliament has been the first in the world to try to hold you to account, and it’s failed. You are literally beyond the reach of British law — not just British laws, this is nine parliaments, nine countries are represented here, who Mark Zuckerberg refused to come and give evidence to.
And what you don’t seem to understand is that this is bigger than you. And it’s bigger than any of us. And it is not about left or right or “Leave” or “Remain” or Trump or not. It’s about whether it’s actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again.
Because as it stands, I don’t think it is. And so my question to you is, is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you: as the handmaidens to authoritarianism that is on the rise all across the world?
Because you set out to connect people. And you are refusing to acknowledge that the same technology is now driving us apart. And my question to everybody else is, is this what we want: to let them get away with it, and to sit back and play with our phones, as this darkness falls?
The history of the South Wales Valleys is of a fight for rights. And this is not a drill — it’s a point of inflection. Democracy is not guaranteed, and it is not inevitable, and we have to fight and we have to win and we cannot let these tech companies have this unchecked power.
It’s up to us — you, me and all of us. We are the ones who have to take back control.