Facebook boots NYU disinformation researchers off its platform

Facebook has blocked a team of New York University researchers studying political ads and COVID-19 misinformation from accessing its site, a move that critics say is meant to silence research that makes the company look bad.

Last year, NYU’s Ad Observatory launched a project that helps study the use and categorization of ads specifically for those on Facebook. Recently, Facebook has taken action and suspended the accounts of the researchers. 

"We really don't collect anything that isn't an ad, that isn't public, and we're pretty careful about how we do it," said Laura Edelson, a member of the research team leading this project, and a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. 

Damon McCoy, an associate professor at NYU who was also cut off from Facebook, believes the company is using privacy claims as a pretext because it's unhappy with the team's research. “They're trying to send a message to other independent researchers that are trying to study their platform… we need transparency and accountability,” he says. 

In the wake of Facebook’s actions, Senator Warner (D-VA) has also called on Congress "to act to bring greater transparency to the shadowy world of online advertising" in solidarity with the team at NYU. 

“Intentionally or not, those prohibitions are also impeding journalists' and researchers' ability to study, understand and report about the platform,” says Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute.