Facebook’s attack on research is everyone's problem

Facebook recently banned the accounts of several New York University (NYU) researchers who run Ad Observer, an accountability project that tracks paid disinformation, from its platform. This has major implications: not just for transparency, but for user autonomy and the fight for interoperable software.

Here, the Electronic Frontiers Foundation argues that, while Facebook has long opposed the project, its latest decision to attack Laura Edelson and her team is a powerful new blow to transparency. The letter also notes that Facebook says its move is in defense of user privacy and that AdObserver’s actions are violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). 

"If this interpretation of the law were to hold, it would have a debilitating impact on the efforts of journalists, researchers, archivists, and everyday users," write the authors, noting that in reaction to the actions taken by Facebook, over 200 academics signed a letter in solidarity with Laura Edelson and the other banned researchers.

The letter also notes that Several U.S. senators sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a letter asking him to clarify the company’s actions.

"One simple remedy is clearly necessary: Facebook must reinstate all of the accounts of the NYU research team," writes the EFF authors. "Management should also listen to the workers at Facebook calling for greater transparency, and furthermore cease all CFAA legal threats to not just researchers, but anyone accessing their own information in an automated way."