Facebook Bans NYU Researchers Studying Site’s Disinformation

clams that researchers violated terms of service conspicuously timed

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Facebook disabled accounts of researchers studying false information on the site. The company cited customer privacy concerns, but the researchers denied collecting any personal info. Facebook is a major social media conglomerate.

Man using his phone and laptop
Facebook users typically access the social media site through their mobile phones to post text, photos, and multimedia content. Photo By Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

In 2020, a group of NYU researchers called Cybersecurity for Democracy launched a web browser extension that tracks political ads on Facebook. The tool, which is an optional download for anyone who cares to help, determines when, where, and why people get certain ads on the social media site. Before the U.S. presidential election in 2020, the researchers discovered misleading political ads on Facebook. They also found an alarming amount of engagement between Facebook users and far-right misinformation that predated the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Recently, the social media giant suddenly banned the researchers and their accounts from the social networking site, claiming they violated the company’s terms of service. However, Cybersecurity for Democracy has denied any wrongdoing, casting doubt on the Facebook’s real motives. This isn’t the first time Facebook has made headlines for its misleading content; the White House recently blamed the site for allowing COVID-19 misinformation to flourish.

Facebook’s many recent appearances in the news have many wondering: How much sway does a company like Facebook have? In her video series Social Media 101, photographer and educator Pei Ketron explained just how much of a major player Facebook is in the social media industry.

The Social Network

“Facebook is the largest social network in the world,” Ketron said. “It allows users to create a profile based on their own identity or a business identity. It’s a platform that makes it simple to connect with friends, family, and colleagues through friend requests, and allows users to share text, photo, and multimedia content with those connections and the greater world.”

Over the last 15 years, Facebook has expanded to include video chatting and messaging, payments, subscriptions, and a marketplace to buy and sell goods. Large social groups, maintained by administrators and moderators, join together people based on a shared interest, whether it’s a TV show, musician, local farmers’ market, politician, or any other subject.

It’s also helpful to distinguish between Facebook as a website or mobile app and Facebook as a company.

“Facebook, as we’re referring to it, refers to the social media platform owned by Facebook, the conglomerate,” Ketron said. “This greater conglomerate has acquired over 80 companies, notably Instagram, Oculus, and WhatsApp. And these acquisitions really fuel growth and new functionalities.”

According to Ketron, this means the Facebook social media site now has new components available due to companies the social media giant has acquired. For example, when Instagram users post a picture on Instagram, the site now has an option to automatically share it to their Facebook page if the two are linked. Even captions Instagram users write carry over. It’s also worth noting that Facebook users primarily access the site through their mobile phones, which is a less daunting format than the full web version.

“Facebook is primarily a friend model, so when you send somebody your friend request, they have to accept it before you two are connected,” Ketron said. “There are a few exceptions to that, most notably with businesses and brands.”

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily