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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Great Hack is a highly-charged documentary that exposes the advancing abuse and misuse of every internet user's personal data. The movie confirms that in our technology-driven world, behavior is being accurately predicted by those who want to change that behavior. The stakes are high. Using recent history -- "voter-profiling company" Cambridge Analytica's influence on Britain's Brexit Movement and on the 2016 election of Donald Trump -- filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim sound a call for action. The film contends that data rights are fundamental rights and must be protected. Viewers will hear occasional expletives, including "f--k" and "s--t." This serious treatment of complex issues may not engage any but the most mature kids.
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What's the story?
Focusing on the U.S. 2016 presidential election and Great Britain's Brexit campaign, THE GREAT HACK details the measures taken by political operatives to successfully manipulate internet users' opinions and, ultimately, their votes. The camera follows some significant players in the real-life drama that unfolds. David Carroll, an educator who instigated the investigation by suing Cambridge Analytica to get his personal data back, represents those who were exploited. Brittany Kaiser, formerly an executive at Cambridge, is the whistle-blower who helps tell the tale. Carole Cadwalladr is the journalist whose thorough research confirmed the facts. The camera interviews these people and follows them as their voices are heard. Alexander Nix, the face of Cambridge Analytica, refuses to cooperate, but his presence on film and his words are crucial to the storytelling. Most compelling are the hate-filled, relentless, divisive images and messages that appear on screens.
Is it any good?
In this eye-opening, well-executed documentary, the filmmakers meet the challenge of blending complex tech information with heightening drama. Plus, there's plenty of "rooting interest." The thing is, in The Great Hack we end up rooting for ourselves, and the long odds of not being one of the fooled, the foiled, and the exploited, unmindful victims of "psy-ops" warfare. The villains here are those who believe it's okay to call their business model "a behavior change agency" and the people who hire them. The protagonists are the people fighting back.
Could the film be called partisan? It is and it isn't. In this piece, conservative ideologues are the bad guys. One fact revealed here is that there were 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook on behalf of Donald Trump's election, and 66,000 for Hillary Clinton. That won't always be the case. The internet -- originally envisioned as the means to a wonderful, connected world -- is suffering from growing pains, and until the same folks who dreamed it up and developed it can find a way to control its excesses and abuses, we're all in danger of becoming what this film and these companies call "the persuadables."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the purposes of documentaries: to entertain, inform, inspire, and persuade. Which category(ies) best describe The Great Hack? What is your takeaway from the movie? Do you think it will have an impact on choices you make while using the internet?
What is a "cautionary tale?" In what ways is Brittany Kaiser's story a cautionary tale?
What do you think is meant by statement (made by a principal of Cambridge Analytica): "To fundamentally change society, you have to break it." Do you agree or disagree with his notion? Why? How do the events in this movie help clarify your answer?
- On DVD or streaming: July 24, 2019
- Cast: David Carroll, Brittany Kaiser, Carole Cadwalladr
- Directors: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, History
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: July 17, 2020
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