According to Defense One, the U.S. State Department holds a contract with Strategic Communications Laboratories, known as SCL Group -- the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, both of which were recently banned by Facebook for misuse of user data.
State’s “Global Engagement Center does have a contract with the Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) Group to provide research and analytical support in connection with our mission to counter terrorist propaganda and disinformation overseas,” a State Department spokesperson said. “SCL, in particular SCLDefence, has done work for other parts of the U.S. government in the past as well and is a major company in the field of research and analytics.”
The Global Engagement Center was created under the Obama administration in 2016 as with the goal of countering ISIS propaganda online.
Among other things, the Center was intended to use data provided by users of social media platforms to craft highly targeted messages, use social networks to fight propaganda, in similar fashion as marketers use Facebook and Twitter to sell goods and services. The Center quickly turned to Facebook, according to Michael Lumpkin, the center’s founding director.
It was after Lumpkin left the Center in January 2017 that SCL contracted with the State Department.
SCL’s website claims that they offer “highly targeted” outreach to specific audiences via “channels such as social media; and indirect channels such as third-party endorsements and network affiliations. Every campaign is measured and evaluated: we execute a truly quantifiable approach to engagement, which ensures maximum efficiency of spending.”
In light of Facebook's recent revelations and subsequent banning of Cambridge Analyica and SCL, the latter's contract with government agencies could become problematic.
Facebook’s action suggests that SCL may have benefited from data obtained in violation of Facebook’s terms of service and possibly of U.S. law while serving as a U.S. government contractor. At very least, the suspension means that the company will have a difficult time delivering the products that the company has contracted to provide to the government.