Facebook’s Suspension of Research Accounts Shows Disregard for Scrutiny
PEN America says action is part of broader pattern of Facebook shutting down avenues to better understand how the platform operates
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Facebook Tuesday disabled a number of personal accounts and Facebook pages linked to a New York University-based research project investigating the platform’s targeting of political ads. PEN America’s Matt Bailey, digital freedom program director, said the following:
“The removal of these researchers’ accounts is part of a larger pattern of Facebook seeking to undercut or silence anyone analyzing the platforms’ practices from the outside. While concerns regarding scraping of private personal information are important, Facebook has been engaged in a war of attrition against independent research about how it targets users with advertising and other important issues. The NYU Ad Observatory and its network of researchers are one of the few teams who have been able to conduct meaningful external research on the platform despite the company’s obstructionism.
“Facebook has asserted for years its commitment to informing people with regards to what happens on its platforms. Actions like those against these researchers tell a different story: Facebook should not only support research that it can shape and influence, but rather demonstrate that it is not allergic to public scrutiny or free-ranging academic inquiry.
“Academic researchers should not have to build Rube Goldberg machines to collect usable, independent information about how social media platforms function. Facebook is now trying to pin its actions on a technicality, but a technicality necessitated by Facebook’s own opaqueness. Facebook is the world’s largest and arguably most consequential forum for free expression. These actions are a direct shot at independent research, academic freedom, and efforts to understand threats to democratic speech taking place on it. The company should not only reverse its account bans against these researchers but also reverse its practice of systematic obscurity and obstructionism against independent research.”