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Facebook still won't let you "friend" Christopher Wylie

Facebook whistleblower: "You are the target"

Hours before whistleblower Christopher Wylie went public in The Guardian newspaper on March 17, 2018, exposing a complicated international scheme to use Facebook as a political tool to target voters with finely-tuned, manipulative misinformation, Facebook banned him.

Aware that a bombshell story, largely based on Wylie's account, was about to hit, the social media giant removed from all its platforms the accounts of multiple people associated with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Wylie remains lumped in with his banned former colleagues a year and a half after he became a globally famous figure with his bombshell revelations. Wylie revealed in intricate detail a web of powerful characters stretching from the U.S. and Canada to the U.K. and Russia, who worked before the 2016 Brexit vote and U.S. presidential election to stockpile and "weaponize" an enormous trove of information about individual people. His work for Cambridge Analytica and its associates is recounted in his book "Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America," released Monday.

"I'm still banned," Wylie said in an interview with CBS News Wednesday. "They they won't speak to me. You know Facebook has this sort of bizarre culture of like really shunning people who raise legitimate concerns about how, you know, their company is operating."

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to CBS News that Wylie remains barred from the platform, and referred CBS News to a March 18 press release explaining that Wylie and others misled the company about data harvested from Facebook.

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Christopher Wylie in an Oct. 9, 2019 interview with CBS News. CBS News

In his interview with CBS News, Wylie said he believed banning him was an attempt to "get ahead of the story."

"I guess in some way to vilify me or cast me in a particular light. I thought it was a really petty move," he said.

But Wylie said the experience has actually served to elucidate just how powerful and integral Facebook has become to the typical internet user.

"When I looked at what happened after, they completely eviscerated my existence, my identity online. All of my photos were gone. My messages were gone, not only from my account but they went into everybody that I had talked to on Facebook and deleted the messages from their accounts also. My Tinder stopped working. Because I used Facebook sign on, countless numbers of apps stopped working. And one of the things that I realized was the scale of like how much I was actually using Facebook services," Wylie said.

Wylie witnessed firsthand the power a person or company can wield both by gathering data about individuals through those services, and by using Facebook to target and deceive those same individuals. In one particularly disturbing scene recounted in "Mindf*ck," Wylie describes watching from afar an actual person's real-time internet activity — a man in Trinidad simultaneously researching plantain recipes and viewing pornography — while his "giddy" boss laughed, "taking such deep, nasty pleasure in the chance to ridicule and exploit others."

Wylie said he doesn't think many people understand that there are companies capable of surveillance that intrusive. He said previous whistleblower revelations — such as the NSA spy programs revealed by Edward Snowden — let people believe their data is "collateral" to agencies unconcerned with most individuals.

"What's different with Cambridge Analytica and more broadly with social media is that you are the target," Wylie said. "People want to harvest your information in as granular a way as possible in order to, like, create a picture, a complete picture of who you are, ultimately to either sell you things or make you believe things."

Facebook and the firms that target users on social media are like extremely effective stalkers, he said.

"Imagine you're on a blind date for a second and...you sit down with somebody and you're chatting with that person, and you know, they happen to like the same music that you like. They watch the same TV shows that you watch. You know they know some of the same people, they hang out in the same places. They seem, like, perfect for you. Right? And the reason for that is because they've spent two years stalking you, you know, looking at your photos, reading your text messages, talking to your friends. following you at work," Wylie said. "In that moment you are vulnerable to being manipulated because there is an imbalance in information. You can't properly assess the meaning and context of the things that you're being told because you don't know the underlying motivation, or the underlying information that's powering that. And so Facebook is like a scaled version of that stalker."

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