Facebook’s Data Breach Raises Concerns in the Digital Media World

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

Last year Facebook measured 240 million monthly active users in the US, each of whom provided the tech giant with a trove personal information scattered through cookies, tracking pixels, status updates, GPS check-ins,  and other widely employed data-harvesting methods. Of that 240 million, few probably stopped to think about where their data was being was being stored, who had access to it, and how it might be used. Now, that lack of transparency is causing major headaches at Facebook HQ.

Facebook was recently confronted with allegations that social media monitoring firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of 50 million of its users. Cambridge Analytica then used the data on behalf of the Trump campaign to create targeted political ads and media campaigns in the 2016 presidential election. Users, largely unaware that this data was being collected, let alone utilized, now contend their privacy was violated.

Facebook responded to the reports and denied a data breach, saying it gave permission to Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at the University of Cambridge, to gain information from users who took his personality test via an app: “thisisyourdigitallife.” Though Kogan was allowed to access the information, sharing it with Cambridge Analytica for commercial purposes crossed a line.

This latest scandal has sparked discussion over whether targeted political ads with a skeptical relationship with the truth have reached the point of interference with the principles of democracy. When Internet users see ads on social media, the ads are unique to their browsing history and tailored to their likes, dislikes, and a myriad of other data points collected by Facebook. The ad content is strategically positioned to persuade users, sometimes including biased political sentiments and misinformation that represents a user or group of users’ world view rather than objective fact. In this way Cambridge Analytica was able to influence users’ voting attitudes with personal data they had acquired.

The news of this data breach has reached lawmakers on a state and federal level. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy recently said her office will conduct an investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Last week, top Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee–Senators John Thune (R-SD), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Jerry Moran (R-KS)–stated  Mark Zuckerberg needed to testify. Additionally, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Mark Warner (D-VA),  tried to reinforce their Honest Ads Act legislation, which aims to hold tech companies to the same political ad transparency standards as radio, TV and print outlets.

The investigations, hearings, and legislation that come out of this data breach must be watched closely. Much of the internet is still seen as a digital ‘Wild West’ with few regulations and a lot of digital marketing is still largely misunderstood. As people begin to take a closer look at what goes on behind the newsfeed, the next couple of weeks will be pivotal for determining the future of social media and digital marketing as a whole.

Image provided by Chesnot / Getty Images

The Privilege to Vote at the Age of 18


Since I was a little girl, I’ve watched numerous presidential elections. Before I was 18 my voice could not be heard because I wasn’t old enough to vote yet. I would watch the commercials of the election, and hear the presidential debates go on at my kitchen table, but my opinion did not matter because I was not 18 yet. It was like my voice was trapped in a box, sealed with tape. November 8, 2016 I will be 18 years old, and that box will finally be open, my voice will finally be free. I will be able to vote. Having the privilege to vote makes me feel a part of America even more. With my vote I have the power to create change in the country, and within my community. Many do not have the privilege to vote because they are not citizens, old enough, or other restrictions that causes them to be within the roadblock of not voting. 18 and voting shows a voice of a young citizen. The majority of the people who vote are usually 25 and older, which means that their perspective is different from a teenage perspective. My vote will be used as a teenage perspective, and that means a lot. Many say that teens are the future leaders so by voting it will show a different perspective to help change America in the future.

Evelyn is O’Neill and Associates’ corporate work-study student, she is a Senior at Cristo Rey Boston High School in Dorchester, MA. 

CEO’s Corner: The Oval Office is Not The Apprentice Board Room

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIAmericans will tune in tonight to the final presidential debate.  While voters should hear a debate on the many important topics that have gone unaddressed in previous debates, pre-debate shenanigans suggest that it may be more of the same with more discussion about the guests in attendance than the future of our nation.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace will serve as the moderator for tonight’s debate, marking the first time in the network’s twenty-year history that a Fox News journalist has taken the helm of a general election presidential debate. Despite Fox News’ conservative reputation, expect Chris Wallace to press both candidates hard on hot-button issues such as foreign policy, national security and the economy, among others.

One thing is clear: the 2016 presidential election has been predictably unpredictable.  Over the course of the election, it seems as if a day doesn’t pass without some twist or turn sending the media, political establishment and electorate into a frenzy. The top of the ticket is affecting down ballot races as well, with control of the Senate – and potentially even the House of Representatives – also up for grabs. For most of the campaign, candidates have tried to walk a fine line with voters, navigating a polarized and volatile political climate. During these final remaining weeks and with early voting underway, voters and candidates must finally take a stand.

For many of my colleagues who are campaign veterans and former reporters, and even for casual observers, it’s easy to allow this election to be fully consuming. It fills the 24-hour news cycle on every level, even including the sports pages. And, while campaigns are always focused on Election Day, I think for this cycle we are all intensely counting down the days – 20 to be exact – until this spectacle is over and when we can comfortably check our Twitter and Facebook feeds again. While Election Day will produce clear winners and losers, it will not clear the air. Even though Hillary Clinton surpasses Donald Trump when it comes to favorability, neither of the candidates is broadly liked, as evidenced by a litany of polls conducted during the course of this election.

Historically, we fixate on the first hundred days of a new president’s administration. This election will demonstrate the special importance of the time period that precedes those first 100 days. Both parties will move at unprecedented speed to set their future course, place their personnel, and activate ground games to advance their agendas. There’s even a chance that if Congress flips, President Obama will be in a position to accomplish some final goals before he leaves office. By Inauguration Day, the playbook will have already been set.

For the new or returning House and Senate majorities, there will be a certain shakeup in committee leadership, making policy issues even more consequential. The Senate is currently comprised of 54 Republicans, 46 Democrats, meaning five seats are need to flip control and at present anywhere from six to eight Senate races are viewed as competitive. The House is made up of 246 Republicans, 187 Democrats with 30 seats needed to change control. There are more than 30 competitive House races, about half of which are toss-ups. In an unpredictable election year, anything is possible. And, the size of the new majority will directly impact the prospects of the next president’s policy agenda.

Among the policy priorities for 2017 that will likely see action are tax reform, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, banking reform, foreign trade, wages and jobs, and funding for transportation infrastructure. Each one brings opportunities and consequences for every corporation, institution and organization. Exercising your right to vote on November 8th is just plain commonsense. Before you cast a vote, think about what a vote for Donald Trump means for the future of democracy and the principles on which this great county has been built. Yesterday, President Barack Obama exacted his latest rebuke of Donald Trump’s behavior and once again questioned whether or not he truly understands the kind of temperament that is necessary as president.

“You start whining before the game’s even over?” President Obama said. “You don’t have what it takes to be in this job because there are a lot of times when things don’t go our way, or my way… I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”

As Mr. Trump prepares – or does not prepare – for tonight’s debate, I have one piece of advice to offer: it’s time to get serious about this election and understand that the behavior exhibited in The Apprentice Board Room is not fit for the Oval Office.

OA’s Quick Take on the Second 2016 Presidential Debate


Sunday, October 9th marked the second presidential debate of the 2016 Election. Coming on the heels of a scandal that drove dozens of supporters away from the Trump campaign, many Americans were anxious to see how the debate would take shape. Our team shares their initial reactions below:

  1. Hillary walked out strong, confident, smiling. Trump seemed reluctant, nervous.
  2. If you were a Trump supporter, he came out and did exactly what you wanted him to do. He did enough to stop his landslide. And he clearly did some prep. It was still not enough to drastically improve his debate performance, but he performed better on the first few questions of this debate than in the last one.
  3. Locker room talk is no excuse for the language used by Trump in the leaked 2005 video. It’s a sorry explanation, especially after his terrible apology.
  4. The visual of Trump lurking behind Hillary will likely be the lasting memory from this debate, and it was not a good look for him. It made viewers uncomfortable – not just women, but also men.
  5. The questions from the audience were very broad, and given the challenges that this campaign has had on focusing on policy, I think that the broadness of the questions did not help in that effort. I think that this audience should have been encouraged to write questions with more specifics regarding policy.
  6. It seems that Trump believes being President is essentially acting on one’s own and clearly has a lack of understanding about the government’s system of checks and balances. This is an exaggerated statement, but there is some truth to it. He seems to think that one senator has a lot of power.
  7. I don’t think that this debate changes any of the fundamentals of the election. Trump may have shored up collapsing support from the Republican Party, but he did nothing to expand his base. Hillary continued to look substantive and presidential, which is what she needed to convey.

Share your insights and takeaways with our team on Twitter @oneillandassoc or by using #OAPolitics. Learn more about our digital communications and social media management capabilities here


A Week In Review: Debate Fallout Exacerbates Challenges for Trump Campaign

By Peter Ubertaccio

2016-10_ubertaccio_0087Donald Trump’s slide in the polls seems to confirm conventional wisdom that his widely panned performance last Monday has doomed his candidacy.

That’s both right and wrong.

Trump turned in one of the most dismal debate performances in modern times.  It began a week of negatives featuring the body shaming of a former Miss Universe, reports that he hasn’t paid income taxes in over a decade, and an order for the Trump Foundation to cease its activities.

The debate seems like the high point of the week.

I was lucky enough to be inside the debate hall where the audience reactions reaffirmed what was happening across the country.  Though we couldn’t see the split screen that the viewing audience saw, and thus missed the important contradictions between Trump’s words and Clinton’s reactions, it was notable that Trump’s outbursts largely landed like thuds.

Though scattered applause occurred, I mostly saw heads shaking in disbelief as Trump harangued his way through 90 minutes.  That’s telling because the campaigns both had an equal number of tickets to the debate.  Clinton and Trump supporters were scattered throughout the hall seated next to each other.  Hofstra students and those who attended as guests of the Commission on Presidential debates helped to fill up the hall.

Moderator Lester Holt tried to discourage applause or boos but a partisan and political junkie crowd is not easily cowed into silence.

Polls released yesterday by CNN confirm the collapse.  Trump and Clinton were virtually tied in early September.  Now she’s pulling away.  States like North Carolina remain tight but he has been unable to fight back in Virginia, Colorado, or New Hampshire.  He cannot get to 270 electoral votes without Florida and Clinton continues to lead in the Sunshine state.

Indeed every post debate poll shows a growing lead for Clinton.

It’s tempting to say that the debate has caused this.  But it’s much more complicated.

Recall that Mitt Romney bested Barack Obama in their first encounter.  John Kerry was widely viewed as the winner in all three of his debates with George W. Bush. Ronald Reagan’s first debate with Walter Mondale was so dismal for the incumbent that Reagan’s mental health became the subject of national conversation.

Obama, Bush, and Reagan were not ultimately harmed by debates as the fundamentals of the race favored them.   This race favors Clinton.

The debate magnified the doubts that many have held about Donald Trump for a very long time.    Voters have by wide margins questioned Trump’s temperament.  Last week’s debate confirmed their doubts.

It’s this long standing concern about his caustic style and chaotic campaign that is harming Donald Trump, not his poor debating skills.

Professor Peter Ubertaccio is Professor Politics, a blogger at MassPoliticsProfs, and a political analyst. He serves as the Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Programs and as Director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter at @professoru for more of his political insight and analysis. 

Three Keys to Hillary Clinton’s Big Debate Win

By Suzanne Morse


By all objective measures, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scored a decisive victory last night in the first presidential debate, the biggest moment yet of the 2016 presidential campaign.  Both an instant poll by CNN and a Public Policy Polling survey rated her the overwhelming winner (62 percent vs. 27 percent and 51 percent vs. 40 percent, respectively); a focus group by pollster Frank Luntz gave the win to Hillary Clinton; and even the investor markets indicated a clear victory for the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State.

So, what were three keys to her winning strategy?

  • Managing Sky High Expectations – Last night, Hillary Clinton pulled off something that is nearly impossible: she not only met high expectations, she exceeded them. Most observers believed that the debate was Clinton’s to lose, which is a risky position to be in.  But in the days before the debate, the Clinton campaign directly took on those expectations, convincingly making the case that Trump should not be graded on a curve.  The campaign was helped in this effort by Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who said the day before the debate that Trump is the “Babe Ruth of debating.”

    Once she took the debate stage, Clinton performed well – she seemed presidential, and in command of both facts and temperament. She answered difficult questions swiftly and decisively, and took the countless opportunities that Trump gave her to put him on the defensive.  All in all, it was an excellent performance from Hillary Clinton across the board.

  • Winning the Social Media Game – Debates are no longer just won or lost by how reporters discuss them. Social media has taken on an increasing importance in shaping the debate narrative.  According to Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies’ Illuminating 2016 project, Hillary Clinton won the “share of voice” contest on social media last night.  This influenced the narrative of the evening, and will likely continue to impact the fallout from the debate.
  • Walking the Gender Tightrope – Somewhat lost in all of the hoopla last evening was the fact that Hillary Clinton is the first woman to ever be in a general presidential debate. Fairly or not, Clinton had to manage the many stereotypes that are applied to women in public positions, from her onstage demeanor and her clothing choices to the tone of her voice.  From the moment she walked on stage, Clinton looked and sounded presidential and assertive while avoiding most gender traps.

Make sure to tune in to the next debate, which will feature Vice Presidential candidates, Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence and moderated by Elaine Quijano of CBSN.  It will be held on Tuesday, October 4th at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Suzanne Morse is a vice president in O’Neill and Associates’ communications division, specializing in media relations, messaging and branding, and strategic advocacy campaigns. Connect with Suzanne Morse on Twitter @sznnmorse or by email at smorse@oneillandassoc.com

CEO’s Corner: Does Brexit Help Trump’s Candidacy?

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIOn Thursday, June 23rd, I had the honor and privilege of attending the inaugural lecture of the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Chair in Peace at the Ulster University-Magee in Derry, Northern Ireland. The keynote speaker, Dr. Arun Gandhi – the grandson of India’s legendary leader – delivered the inaugural lecture, which was entitled “Building a Culture of Peace: Lessons from My Grandfather.” His message was a valuable reminder of the peace and prosperity prevalent throughout Northern Ireland today – and how many dedicated people and years of hard work it has taken to guide the peacebuilding process to this point.

The following morning, I woke up in Derry to the distressing news that approximately 52 percent of voters in the United Kingdom had voiced their support for a “Brexit,” choosing to withdraw from the European Union. I immediately began to consider what this could mean for the peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, as a whole. Both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, causing Sinn Fein to call for an increase in border security.

The Brexit referendum garnered a 72 percent voter turnout – an unprecedented number that illustrates constituents’ overwhelming desire to voice an opinion about their country’s future. The Leave campaign declared victory with 52 percent of the vote, echoing the growing support that the populist movement in the UK has gained in recent years.

At present, there is no way to comprehend the full effect of Brexit on the United Kingdom, the European Union or the world. One outcome is clear, however. Brexit is a cautionary tale of what could happen in the United States come November, if American voters don’t fully appreciate the consequences that our election will have on our country’s future and that of the world.

In just a few short weeks, the Republican Party will convene in Cleveland to name Donald Trump as its presidential candidate. Throughout his unorthodox campaign, Trump has tapped into some of the same populist concerns and frustrations in the United States as the Leave campaign wildly leveraged to market the Brexit referendum in the UK. Those among us still longing for America’s promise will require thoughtful solutions from the next President, not bluster and discord.

My good friend and professional pollster David Paleologos released a poll today, part of which illustrates that 68 percent of Americans do not view Brexit as an isolated referendum, but rather as an expression of anger and dissatisfaction towards the UK government. Many Americans have echoed similar sentiments of frustration with where our country is headed and have rallied behind Trump as a result. Although a plurality of those polled did not believe that Brexit would positively impact Trump’s candidacy, we must keep in mind that a Trump presidency – like Brexit – has serious implications not only for the United States’ economy and foreign policy, but for the entire world.

On November 8, 2016, we only get one vote and there are no do-overs.


CEO’s Corner: What Does Trump’s Candidacy Mean for the Future of the Republican Party?

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIDonald Trump has broken through every traditional political ceiling, which is as unprecedented as it is startling. His approach though has helped him secure support from over 14.5 million primary voters as well as endorsements from major party leaders including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and former presidential candidate and Senator John McCain. As a lifelong Democrat and the son of former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, watching Trump’s candidacy unfold has been nothing short of alarming and upsetting.

Today’s Republican Party is not the GOP of Ronald Reagan or of George H.W. Bush. Today’s Republican Party is clearly looking for a change and an opportunity to reinvent themselves to better reflect America’s rapidly changing electorate. However, Trump is not the solution. Now that he has all but officially secured the Republican Party nomination, Trump is widening the divide within his party more than ever at a time when he should be bringing everyone together as a united front. Many Republicans are refusing to endorse Trump or are walking back their endorsement, opting instead to abstain from voting altogether.

The most pressing question as we head into the general election is not what happens in November, but rather what does Trump’s candidacy mean, especially for the future of the Republican Party and of the United States of America?

Above all, Trump has demonstrated that the political ceilings that he has destroyed with his campaign – such as the behavioral expectations of a presidential candidate, alignment with the party’s ideology, and a comprehensive understanding of policy, to name a few – were already weak to begin with. In recent decades, the Republican Party has chipped away at these ceilings with their refusal to compromise and their hardened partisanship. Now, party leaders must find a way to move forward and redefine themselves, understanding that no matter what happens in the coming months, these political norms are forever broken.

As a nation, we need to understand that what unfolds in this race – driven so much by Trump’s unpredictability and coarse rhetoric – will become the face of the United States of America to the world, and will set an international precedent for how others proceed. For all of the changes of the last few decades, the United States still plays the dominant leadership role in our world, and people from every corner of the globe will undoubtedly be affected by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and by what it says about our country, our values and our leadership.

As political instability, acts of terror, and ideological extremism continue to wreak havoc in other parts of the world, it is of the utmost importance that we have a president who understands the issues, knows the players and can defuse the threats that face all of us – which is why I’m proud to support Hillary Clinton.

Every vote cast in this election counts, and I encourage you to exercise your right to vote. But, before heading to the polls, I hope that if you choose to cast your vote for Trump, you will consider what that truly means for our country and how it will impact the future of the United States and the rest of the world. This summer, with Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee, we can’t afford to wait until September to pay attention to how his candidacy has impacted the Republican Party and our nation.

Gaining Votes and Gaining Voice: Tips from the Campaign Trail for PR Professionals

By Mike Sherry

Michael Sherry CroppedElection season is in full swing and in local, state, and national races across the country, political races are experimenting with the best ways to promote causes and candidates. As a result, the best public relations strategies are borrowing heavily from the inventive, creative, and think-on-your-feet nature of political campaigns. Like campaign consultants, PR professionals are constantly working to get their client’s message across and accomplish their goals. That’s why campaign tools will always have a role to play in public relations. Here are three ways a sound PR initiative can mimic a political campaign:

Know Your Audience: Campaign professionals are skilled at dividing people into specific audience segments, which enables them to use different tools and messages where they’re most effective. For example, a City Council campaign might target only those voters who have a record of voting in local elections, thereby avoiding the expense of mailing information to households unlikely to turn out on Election Day. Effective PR should do the same thing. Any PR plan that applies a “one size fits all” approach to broadcasting its message is limiting its effectiveness.

Make Use of Events: If a PR consultant and their computer were to vanish, would the message still be heard? If the answer to that question is no, it is time to consider borrowing from the event-focused tradition of electoral politics. Rallies, meet-and-greets, and attention grabbing events are routinely used to drive home a point or capture the attention of a reporter or news crew along the campaign trail.

Instead of simply issuing a press release, consider holding a press conference and taking questions. Use props and visual aids rather than just delivering information in a speech. Political campaigns have a rich tradition of these kind of atmospherics; inventive, colorful imagery can turn a short blurb buried on page 14 into a front-page story and will be noticed and remembered by a far greater number of readers to boot.

Draw Contrasts: Have you ever noticed that political campaigns frequently “go negative” (that is, attack one another), despite the fact that voters say they prefer positive campaigns? There’s a reason for that. Though voters may claim to turn up their noses at negative campaigning, they respond to it, and in some cases it may shape their vote more strongly than any positive messaging. There’s a lesson in there for PR mavens as well. It’s not to be gratuitously nasty or insulting, but there may be a role in a PR campaign for fact-based, fair-minded contrasts between one’s own message and the opposition’s. Good political campaigns are about differences and contrasts. This can be valuable for other types of PR campaigns as well.

If the objective of your PR campaign is to promote your own business or cause at the expense of another, sit down with your PR team to determine if it makes sense to draw a contrast between your messaging and theirs. You should be looking for objective, fact-based instances where your side of the argument is superior to theirs, then figure out how to communicate those cases to readers and viewers in a direct but respectful way. Members of the public aren’t shrinking violets- if your case is persuasive and backed up by neutral fact-checkers, they won’t be turned off by your willingness to go after the opposition. After all, they’ve seen far worse in politics!

Mike Sherry is a director at O’Neill and Associates, specializing in community relations and communications. Email him at msherry@oneillandassoc.com or connect with him on Twitter

CEO’s Corner: March 2016

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIIOn March 16, President Barack Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court of the United States, honoring his constitutional responsibility to fill the vacancy left as a result of Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing in February. Even before President Obama publicly announced the nomination, Senate Republicans united together to refuse consideration of any nominee until after the 2016 presidential election.  Although about a quarter of the Senate GOP Caucus has since softened their tone and agreed to hold a courtesy meeting with Garland, any formal hearing or vote still remains unlikely.

Many Republicans argue that by waiting until after the election to act, they are allowing the American people to have a voice in the Supreme Court nomination process. But a presidential term is four years, not three. In 2012, 65 million Americans voiced their opinion by re-electing President Obama. And what about the countless constituents who elected these Republican Senators, entrusting them with the duty to fulfill a Senator’s Constitutional job responsibilities – which includes giving all Supreme Court nominees a fair hearing?

The Senate has confirmed Supreme Court nominees at least 17 times during presidential election years. Moreover, within just 48 hours after President Obama announced Garland’s nomination, 55 newspaper editorial boards across the country called on the Senate GOP Caucus to do their job and give Garland a hearing.

It’s no secret that our political institutions are broken. Senate Republicans’ outright refusal to fairly and dutifully consider this nomination, let alone even meet with the nominee, is emblematic of the dysfunction and partisan gridlock that has degraded voters’ faith in Congress and that continues to plague our political system.

And it’s this exact kind of partisanship and unwillingness to compromise that has given rise to the anti-establishment sentiment I spoke of last month and is resonating with so many Americans. In recent years, Congress has struggled to pass routine legislation, find areas of compromise on critical issues, and simply move the country forward.

It wasn’t long ago during the civil rights era that Congress and the President worked collaboratively to secure the rights of all people, while some state governments were struggling with the issues. Federal elected officials put the good of the country first in order to achieve necessary progress on big issues and guide the country out of one of its most turbulent eras.

Today, the tables have turned and signs of progress are now commonly found in the state houses. It’s time for the federal government and our elected officials to take a cue from state governments and rise above the politics so that the judicial branch is not another victim of partisan gridlock. The President has done his job. Now it’s time for Senate Republicans to do theirs.