Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and Reliable Sources

This post has been contributed by Professor Jill Marshall, Module Convenor for Jurisprudence and legal theory.

Last year I wrote you a blog on Post-truth’, Liberalism and the Law . As I discussed then, law and the legal system in general is perceived from a liberal perspective as seeking to bring some notions of justice as impartiality, objectivity and fairness, with each person equal before the law. The liberal democratic state provides the backbone to enable that system of the rule of law to function. It provides each of us with the ability to live our own lives, each different and unique from the other, according to our own version of the good life. Of course, a Marxist theory of law would critically dissect this and many versions of feminist legal theory (see the relevant chapters in your Jurisprudence Module Guide).

Recently Cambridge Analytica has hit the headlines. It is accused of using confidential information harvested from Facebook details and information on many individuals. This was reported to be used to influence voters in the EU referendum in the UK, based on knowledge of our preferences, desires and personality traits revealed through the apparent increasing need for us to share all sorts of personal and intimate details of our lives online, including through Facebook usage.

The news story brings to mind more notions of ‘post-truth’ in that we are increasingly asked to question who and what to trust: to question the source or authority of the details sent to us or purported independently advertised to us.

We need to consider sources and authorities more generally for the purposes of a rigorous system of education and learning and this is definitely the case when studying and practising law: to be able to ensure that we are being told true and honest facts; that information has been properly and accurately discovered and can be supported by evidence; and that we are properly and accurately using it. This is why your tutors are continually asking you and seeking in feedback to assignments: What is your source? On what are you relying in making this statement?

Further, for the purposes of your Jurisprudence module, the source or authority has another connotation. For something to be ‘law’ it has to derive from a certain type of source or authority. In classical positivism emanating from Hobbes, the law is what the sovereign commands: this is the source of all law. As extrapolated by Austin, the sovereign can be socially identified through evidence of habitual obedience by the bulk of the population.

All food for thought when considering sources, authorities, facts, reliability and trust in the study of this subject.



  1. Is it not true to say that one of the enduring hallmarks of the democratic process runs along those lines quoted above? Time and time again, parties or persons vying for political power have tried to resonate with voters with those same lines in order to galvanise support. Therefore using the EU referendum as an example, it is evident based on your reasoning vast majority of voters wanted to exit the EU. However, what is more frightening is that liberal thinking akin to the USA seems to have infiltrated the UK and now all sort of excuses are being thrown forward. Sorry, but the referendum has spoken.

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