The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee wants to question Cambridge Analytica's suspended CEO Alexander Nix about the firm's role in Brexit.
- A British parliamentary committee wants to question Cambridge Analytica’s suspended CEO Alexander Nix about the firm’s role in Brexit.
- It follows a source questioning evidence he gave to Parliament about an article he penned in 2016, in which he claimed that CA worked for Brexit campaign group Leave.EU.
- A CA spokesman said it “did not work on the referendum,” adding that any reports to the contrary were “silly.”
- Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee Chair Damian Collins said giving false statements to a parliamentary committee is a “very serious matter.”
A powerful group of British MPs wants to quiz Cambridge Analytica’s (CA) suspended CEO Alexander Nix about the firm’s murky role in Brexit after a source disputed evidence he gave to Parliament.
The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee (DCMSC) has recalled Nix as a witness in its ‘fake news’ inquiry amid claims he gave “false statements” about CA’s role in harvesting Facebook data during a hearing last month.
The influential group of lawmakers want to question him for a second time about the work his firm undertook during the EU referendum, a spokesman said.
The request comes after a source told Business Insider that Nix gave the DCMSC questionable evidence about an article he penned in 2016, in which he claimed that the company worked for Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign group Leave.EU.
A CA spokesman told Business Insider that the company “did not work on the referendum,” adding that any reports to the contrary were “silly.”
Cambridge Analytica’s CEO wrote that the firm had “teamed up” with Leave.EU
However, on February 10, 2016, Nix put his name to a comment piece for British trade journal Campaign about how data had helped Ted Cruz beat Trump in the Republican primary in Iowa.
Within the column, which is still online here, Nix said the company had “teamed up with Leave.EU ” to help the Brexit campaign group “better understand and communicate with UK voters.”
The suspended CEO boasted: “We have already helped supercharge Leave.EU ’s social media campaign by ensuring the right messages are getting to the right voters online, and the campaign’s Facebook page is growing in support to the tune of about 3,000 people per day.”
But in evidence to the DCMSC last month, Nix furiously backpedaled from this version of events. He said the comment piece was drafted by a “slightly overzealous PR consultant” and was published when CA was hoping to win work from Leave.EU, but had yet to enter into a formal contractual relationship.
He told MPs on the committee that CA made efforts to have the article corrected or withdrawn soon after it was published by Campaign — for the simple reason that it never worked with Leave.EU.
“It was an error. We were very vocal about that at the time and we addressed it head-on immediately when we realised that it had been put out,” he said. Asked why the article is still online, Nix said: “I cannot speak to that personally, but I am sure that we have asked them [to withdraw it.]”
Source: Campaign was not asked to withdraw Nix’s article
However, a source familiar with the matter told BI that Cambridge Analytica did not ask for a correction or for the piece to be taken down. “I’m pretty sure they never asked us to withdraw it at the time it was published. There would have been a big discussion about it,” the source told BI.
They said that the magazine has a clear process of meeting to discuss major corrections, which was not initiated after Nix’s article was published. They added that the piece did not generate a lot of traffic, and was largely forgotten about until his quotes about working with Leave.EU began to resurface many months later.
The source also pointed to the fact that Nix did an interview with Campaign last year (the profile was headlined “Cambridge Analytica boss on why he’s no Bond villain,” and is behind a paywall), in which he did not ask for a correction, but stuck to the line he used in the DCMSC hearing: That CA did not work with Leave.EU. CA said this was evidence that Nix had set the record straight.
The source’s comments raise the prospect that CA did actually formally work with Leave.EU in 2016, or at the very least was happy to give the impression that the two organisation’s had a relationship that went beyond CA simply pitching for a contract.
This is supported by other comments from CA and Leave.EU executives at the time. CA’s former Business Development Director Brittany Kaiser spoke at a Leave.EU event in 2015, and said the firm was undertaking research for the campaign group. Aaron Banks, who bankrolled Leave.EU, also said in his book “The Bad Boys of Brexit” that he hired CA to use data to “influence people.”
Cambridge Analytica spokesman: “This is getting silly”
A CA spokesman said questions about the firm’s involvement with Leave.EU are “getting silly.” He added: “For conspiracy theorists, these explanations only reinforce their absurd belief that Brexit was caused by a data marketing agency (in the same way that they think CA used Facebook data to get Trump elected, which is also untrue).”
He did not, however, produce when asked evidence to show that CA asked Campaign to withdraw or correct Nix’s article from February 10, 2016.
In a letter sent to Nix on Thursday, DCMSC Chair Damian Collins said he is yet to provide answers to a series of follow-up questions the committee asked after last month’s hearing. This included a request for CA bank statements to show it received no payment from Leave.EU, which Nix said he would be “pleased” to provide.
Collins said Nix had “deliberately misled” his committee and reminded Nix that giving false statements to Parliament is a “very serious matter.” Although very rare, a jail sentence or a substantial fine could theoretically be imposed as a punishment if a witness misleads a select committee.
Nix was suspended on Tuesday pending an independent investigation by the British barrister Julian Malins. It followed him being secretly filmed by Channel 4 News offering to entrap politicians with bribes and sex workers.