Facebook cuts off academic researchers for scraping data from platform

By Anju T K, Intern Reporter
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The American multinational conglomerate Facebook has cut off some academic researchers for “scraping” data from the platform, igniting a debate over the social media giant’s accessibility to outside academics looking into misleading and abusive content.

Mr. Mike Clark, Facebook’s product management director, said that the project’s accounts were disabled “to prevent unauthorized scraping and preserve people’s privacy following our privacy program.”

For months, the NYU project and Facebook had been at odds over the initiative, which used a browser feature to collect data on adverts that propagate political hoaxes, violence, and COVID-19 falsehoods.

Ms.Laura Edelson, the NYU researcher heading the project stated that “We’ve used this access over the last several years to uncover systemic flaws in the Facebook Ad Library, to identify misinformation in political ads.”

However, scholars and free-speech campaigners reacted angrily to Facebook’s action, claiming that the social media giant is preventing independent access to its tools.

“Facebook has attempted to put a stop to all of our efforts by suspending our accounts. Facebook has effectively cut off access to over two dozen additional researchers and journalists that use Facebook data as part of our study, which includes our work assessing vaccine disinformation,” Ms. Edelson added.

Facebook declares it took the step in line with a 2019 privacy and security settlement with US regulators following the Cambridge Analytica debacle, in which data was harvested for political ad targeting.

According to Mr. Matt Bailey, Digital program director at PEN America noted that “The action is part of a larger trend of Facebook aiming to undercut or suppress anyone assessing the platforms’ practices from the outside.”

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