Down the drain: Facebook gave disinformation researchers incomplete data

Disinformation researchers who relied on data provided by Facebook may have lost months, if not years, of work. The administration of the social network provided them with inaccurate and incomplete information about how site users interact with publications and links.



Two years ago, Facebook opened the data to scientists who are investigating the spread of disinformation on the platform. The company promised them transparency and access to all types of user interactions. As it turned out, in practice, the bank included data on only about half of the users in the United States. And in most cases, the report included information about those users who were active enough in the political sphere to make their bias obvious.

Scientists notified the Facebook administration of the incident, and in response, the service representative sent an email apologizing for “Possible inconvenience”… The company also said it is working to fix the problem, but it could take weeks to finally resolve it due to the sheer volume of data that needs to be processed. And the data on users outside the United States does not contain inaccuracies.

Facebook spokeswoman Mavis Jones said the problem was caused by “a technical error”which the company is already doing. The first discrepancy was discovered by the associate professor of the University of Urbino (Italy) Fabio Giglietto (Fabio Giglietto). He compared the data that the social network supplied to the researchers with the data from the “Highly Viewed Content Report”, which was released in August – and the results did not match.

Other researchers raised concerns immediately after the report was published. Alice Marwick from the University of North Carolina (USA) said that she could not verify the results because she did not have the data that Facebook used. The company called her with an apology. Another researcher named Megan Squire replied that in just one day she talked about this problem with 47 specialists: each project was under threat, and for some it became completely unsuitable for further work.

Not so long ago, Facebook blocked the accounts of scientists who used their own tools to obtain data from the social network. The service has disabled the personal accounts of members of the Ad Observatory project from the University of New York. They developed their own browser plug-in for collecting information on political advertising, but the site’s administration considered this method “Unauthorized collection of data”… Subsequently, this incident was criticized by the US Federal Trade Commission.

About the author

Robbie Elmers

Robbie Elmers is a staff writer for Tech News Space, covering software, applications and services.

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