The story of Senator Heidi Heitkamp has been widely reported. But some new details emerged during a CNN interview at the weekend.
The Senator was found to have used the names of 100+ victims of sexual abuse in an open letter in some local North Dakota newspapers without their permission or knowledge, to win political arguments against her Mid-Term Election competitor Kevin Cramer.
One of the victims Lexi Zhorela revealed on CNN that she was named in the letter after having been targeted by a Facebook campaign appearing to come from a victims abuse outreach group – but she had ignored the contact, made no confirmation or response. She states that she had only told a few people of her past incident and wished to keep it private.
Following this scandal, news reports that Heitkamp published yet another ad to apologise to victims “outed” in her first public posting, now appears to have named women who were never victims of abuse in the first place. It appears both lists of women were gathered using Facebook data scraping of keywords, messages, page/group “likes” and other tenuous indicators that the women may have been abused.
To try and conclude women had suffered abuse by such casual means is not only baffling but frightening. Campaigns use of this apparent data is even more so. Women seeking to anonymously reach out for support, advice or even to silently observe others stories is compromised by the ability to target them via paid Facebook targeted ads.
The capability exists for ANYONE to pay small dollars and run ads that will only be seen by women in select geographical areas that have liked, particular posts, sentiments and abuse support groups. Anyone unfortunate to find themselves in a traumatic situation like this – be warned, Facebook might not be the safe haven of help groups you are looking for.