Facebook Goes After NYU Ad Observatory In Attack on Critics

AUGUST 4: Yesterday, Facebook disabled the accounts of NYU’s Ad Observatory team, claiming they are scraping data in violation of the company’s terms of service. The lead researcher, Laura Edelson, is a member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board and led urgent and critical work ahead of the 2020 election in scrutinizing political advertising.

The Real Facebook Oversight Board issued the following statement:

Independent external analysis of Facebook content from academic institutions like the NYU Ad Observatory has exposed Facebook as a breeding ground for disinformation and right wing extremism. Now like the authoritarian governments they court, Facebook is cracking down on both scrutiny and criticism.

As Facebook expands its stranglehold on the academic community studying the impacts of digital technology and social media, this is sure to have a chilling effect on other academic institutions. We can’t allow it. The NYU Ad Observatory researchers are performing a critical service for democracy that must be protected.

Facebook’s action is wrong, but not surprising. And the suggestion that the NYU Ad Observatory has anything in common with Cambridge Analytica is offensive and deeply misleading. As journalists have noted, the Ad Observatory accused of collecting data without consent — but the data collected is already public. Facebook simply wants to silence a critic. To use this as an excuse to crack down on independent academic research while its executives have failed even now to answer questions to Congress about their role in facilitating the abuse of data by Cambridge Analytica is outrageous.

Facebook has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted to police itself. Independent scrutiny of its platform by academic researchers is essential. We hope that Facebook’s own so-called ‘Oversight Board’ will join us in calling for this to be reversed immediately.

An emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms from leading global scholars, experts and advocates.