Recently Netflix released a documentary titled, “The Great Hack”. It details the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica, a company at the centre of a debate about how our online personal data can be used for purposes far beyond what we understand. It is a fascinating journey into the digital age, the shadowy world of online data use, and the distorted world view some craft to justify their personal drive for success and riches.
At the centre of the controversy was the misuse of personal data from millions of Facebook accounts. Cambridge Analytica used the data to provide clients with the ability to influence specific issues in one direction or the other via social media. Brexit and the American elections are two examples. When Cambridge Analytica’s misdeeds came to light it set off a worldwide firestorm of accusations, inquires and eventually criminal charges. It is a complex story which takes Netflix almost two hours to unravel, something I will not attempt to do in a few short paragraphs.
This is not the first time that global misdeeds regarding the internet have come to light. There will be more in the future. In this case though, what captured my attention was the documentary’s attempt to focus on one person who played a key role in the downfall of Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser. She was the former Business Development Coordinator for the company.
People transform into “whistleblowers” for numerous reasons. Sometimes it is a matter of conscience, that deep persistent voice from within that simply cannot be silenced. Some have thrown suspicion on Ms. Kaiser’s motives. However, as I watched the documentary it was evident that as one commentator put it, “she seemed to be looking for redemption.” In other words, looking for a way to silence the deep persistent voice.
As the documentary un-folded I was struck by the power of one person’s conscience. Ms. Kaiser’s testimony at hearings and in public, along with another whistleblower, Chris Wylie, provided investigators with plenty of material to eventually expose and bring down Cambridge Analytica. Two people, two small voices in the shadow of power, politics and great wealth. Never underestimate the power of conscience.
Jesus said as much, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14, NIV). Although this passage is not often associated with conscience, conscience is central to understanding its message for our lives. I believe that sometimes we underestimate the power of our own conscience to impact the conscience of others in the world around us. When I worked as a chaplain in the federal prison it would not be unusual to walk onto a cell block and hear the most colourful of language from either staff or inmate. On occasion, either staff or inmate, suddenly recognizing that I was there would quickly say, “Oh sorry chaplain. Didn’t see you there.” I would joke afterward that it was okay, I had heard my fair share of it. It was a small thing, yet it wasn’t. In offering an apology there was a recognition of who I was, what I represented, and most importantly who I followed.
In the sermon Mark brought to us last week he made this passing comment, “In our present culture just going to Church on Sunday is saying something to those around us.” There are numerous seemingly small things we do in our lives as Christians that are powered by our conscience. We act, speak, engage, care, forgive, seek forgiveness, sometimes challenge and pray for others because we listen to that deep persistent voice from within that simply cannot be silenced. As Christians we are expected to bring light to the world around us. In numerous ways, the most effective way to do so is to listen to that deep persistent voice and remember the power of conscience.