New York, August 4, 2021 — We are dismayed that Facebook has shut down the accounts of independent researchers who were uncovering the dark world of political advertising. The NYU Ad Observatory and the Facebook users who volunteer their own data were providing an invaluable public service. Without it, we will know less about how public candidates and private interests attempt to set agendas, sway public opinion and shape policy.
Independent research into Facebook remains critical. Our journalism shows why the “trust us” approach to transparency that Facebook takes doesn’t work. Already, our Citizen Browser Project has uncovered that Facebook continued to push political groups after it swore to Congress it would not. It pushed anti-vaccine content when it had promised it would not. And it was still allowing discriminatory advertising after pledging to ban it. Stifling independent researchers like the team at NYU’s Ad Observatory is a direct threat to accountability for a company with never-before-seen power to sway public opinion.
Facebook’s cavalier approach to privacy enabled it to become so dominant. But now, when independent researchers want to interrogate that platform and the influence it commands, Facebook is propping up user privacy as a shield to hide behind. Facebook’s actions are disappointing, but we remain committed to continuing this vital accountability work through our own independent journalism.
Julia Angwin, Editor-in-Chief, and Nabiha Syed, President