PR firms 'refused to work with Cambridge Analytica during Facebook data hack scandal'

Cambridge Analytica approached "tens" of PR agencies for crisis comms support during the Facebook data breach scandal, and every agency refused, says a former senior executive at the firm.

Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix: In the firing line
Former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix: In the firing line

That claim is made in the new Netflix documentary The Great Hack, which looks at disgraced data company Cambridge Analytica's role in the 2016 US presidential election.

At one point the documentary focuses on the aftermath of Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to the US Congress in April 2018. The Facebook CEO was questioned about how his company worked with Cambridge Analytica ahead of the 2016 US election.

The event generated a huge amount of negative publicity for Cambridge Analytica, which used data from 87 million Facebook users to target political ads in the run up to the election.

PRWeek reported around that time that US-based North 6th Agency had cut ties with Cambridge Analytica, having started working with the company in 2015.

Julian Wheatland, former COO/CFO at Cambridge Analytica, says in the film: "I learned many things from that period. I learned, for example, that when you're in a PR crisis the one thing you can't hire is a PR crisis company.

"We spoke to tens of crisis PR companies that listened intently, went away to think about it, and came back and said, 'sorry, we can't associate ourselves with your brand'. I thought that's what they were there for.

"It became impossible to get a voice."

Shortly after the Congress hearing, Clarence Mitchell, the former BBC royal correspondent and later spokesman for the family of disappeared child Madeleine McCann, addressed a press conference as a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica, denying some of the claims and saying the firm is "no Bond villain".

The Great Hack, which was released this week, examines the links between Cambridge Analytica's work in the 2016 US presidential election and its activities with pro-Brexit campaigners ahead of the UK's EU Referendum.

It also looks at how Cambridge Analytica helped campaign groups in other countries, including in Myanmar, where it was accused of having its data used as part of a campaign to spread hate speech against the persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

Facebook's role in the activities is also examined.

Cambridge Analytica began insolvency proceedings in the weeks after Zuckerberg's Congress hearing.

In June this year, former Cambridge Analytica CEO and founder Alexander Nix withdrew from a panel on the morality of data at Cannes Lions after news of his attendance drew criticism from journalists and industry leaders.

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