Facebook banned a group of New York University students who were investigating online platform political advertising and misinformation.
In a blog post on Wednesday, a social media giant stated that it has banned the Cybersecurity of democracy’s project NYU Ad Observatory accounts, apps, and sites. The restriction is the last one that Facebook had on academics in a long-standing conflict.
The group produced a browser plug-in called Ad Observer to support its research, which collects data from political ad users to see exactly why the ad was targeted.
The tool collects, inter alia, the name of the advertiser and the content of your ads, the Facebook information about the targeting of your ad, and when the ad was shown to a user. It does not gather any personal data. The collected data will then be made publicly available by Ad Observer.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal in October last year, Facebook stated that the NYU Ad Observatory’s research violated its rules of use. In their blog post, the social media giant reiterated their reasoning for the ban on Wednesday.
Mike Clark, Product Management Director of the Company, wrote in the letter: “Whilst the project Ad Observatory is well intended, persistent and recurring violations of scraping protection cannot be disregarded and should be remedied.” Clark also noted that the browser extension gathers “who didn’t install or consent to the collection,” information about Facebook users.
However, as stated in Protocol in March, the data obtained from the accounts that did not seem to be “agree to the gathering” that Clark refers to in fact were private users rather than advertising.
Laura Edelson, a Cybersecurity for Democracy, said Facebook “silences us because our work frequently focuses on the issues on its platform.” The Daily Dot made a remark on Cyber Security for Democracy but didn’t hear it immediately.
However, Edelson discussed the decision of the social media giant in a series of tweets.
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
“Our team in NYU, Cybersecurity for Democracy, was suspended on the Facebook account and accounts this evening. This will shut off our access to the ad library and Crowdtangle data on Facebook,” wrote Edelson”.
They have utilized these accesses over the past several years to reveal systematic faults in the Facebook Ad Library, to highlight disinformation in political publications, including many of our electoral distrust, and to investigate the apparent amplification by Facebook of partisan misinformation.”
“Facebook has effectively halted all this effort by suspending our accounts. More than two dozen other academics and journalists who have access to Facebook data through our initiative, including our vaccinal misinformation measurement work with the Virality Project and many others who rely on our data, have also effectively shut down Facebook.
This team’s efforts to make misinformation data transparent on Facebook are crucial for a healthy internet and a healthy democracy.”