Facebook has banned some researchers studying disinformation on Facebook

Facebook has banned some researchers studying disinformation on Facebook

The social media claims that scholars obtained user data without authorization, conducting research on disinformation, while academics claim they were silenced for exposing the platform's problems

Photo: Unspalsh Facebook banned the personal accounts of a group of researchers who participated in the Ad Observatory project of the University of New York, on the transparency of ads and the spread of disinformation on the social network, accusing them of having violated the terms of service. Facebook claims academics obtained user data without authorization, while researchers claim they were silenced for exposing the platform's problems.

This evening, Facebook suspended my Facebook account and the accounts of several people associated with Cybersecurity for Democracy, our team at NYU. This has the effect of cutting off our access to Facebook's Ad Library data, as well as Crowdtangle. 1/4

- Laura Edelson (@ LauraEdelson2) August 4, 2021

As the group explained in May, their goal is to find out who pays for the ads politicians and how audiences are targeted. This work aims to better understand how misinformation spreads on Facebook, as the company does not verify political ads.

The group has been reviewing Facebook's ad library for several years, but it does not share all of them. the data voluntarily. The American researchers then created a browser plug-in called Ad Observer, which automatically collects data on which political ads are shown to users and why those ads are targeted at them.

The plug-in does not collect any personally identifiable information, including the name of the users, the Facebook identification number or the list of friends, depending on when the participants in the project refer.

The suspension of accounts and the inability to collect this data will also harm many journalists. As The Verge writes, the stories that derive directly from this work recount "Facebook's inability to reveal who pays for certain political ads" and how much "far-right misinformation is more engaging than misinformation from center or left sources. ".

Mike Clark, director of product management at Facebook, wrote in a blog post that the Menlo Park company welcomes the research but that it shouldn't compromise the platform's security or privacy. of users. The company has offered researchers a number of "privacy protection methods" to collect and analyze data, Clark said.

As early as last summer, researchers were told that their extension to the Ad Observatory browser violated Facebook's terms and was asked to stop collecting data from the platform.

Laura Edelson, a NYU researcher involved in the project and whose personal account is been banned by Facebook, says the company wants to end independent control of its platform.

The decision to shut down their access comes against the backdrop of Facebook's review of how researchers use its instruments. Mark Zuckerberg's company has in fact eliminated many ways to access data from third parties in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. A new API to access data of this type for research purposes should be launched by the end of the year.

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