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Facebook disabled accounts of NY University researchers examining political ads on its site

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Facebook disabled accounts of NY University researchers examining political ads on its site
Facebook app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

WASHINGTON – The United States is stepping up its efforts to combat climate change. “It is highly troubling,” Senator Mark Warner said on Wednesday, in response to Facebook Inc.’s decision to delete the accounts of a group of New York University researchers who were conducting research on political advertisements on the social media network’s platform.

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it had disabled the personal accounts and access of the New York University researchers who were conducting a study of political advertisements on the site due to concerns about other users’ privacy.

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According to Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the decision was a step backward.

It is “deeply concerning” that Facebook has taken this latest action to cut off an outside group’s transparency efforts, which have previously facilitated the disclosure of ads that violated Facebook’s terms of service, ads for frauds and predatory financial schemes, as well as political ads that were improperly omitted from Facebook’s “lackluster Ad Library,” he said in a statement.

Warner went on to say that Congress should take action to combat fraud and other wrongdoing in online advertising.

“We consistently explained our privacy concerns to NYU researchers, but their researchers ultimately opted not to address them and instead began scraping people’s data and ads from our platform,” a Facebook official said in a statement on Wednesday.

When visiting Facebook, the NYU Ad Observatory project offers visitors to download an extension for their browser that collects information about how they are presented with political advertisements on the site. The initiative received a cease-and-desist letter from Facebook last year.

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For example, Facebook has developed tools to increase openness over advertising on its services, such as its own ad library, which is a searchable online database including political advertisements that appear on the site. Researchers, on the other hand, have criticized the library for being insufficient and difficult to utilize.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, NYU researcher Laura Edelson stated that Facebook’s actions had denied them access to tools that they had used to uncover systemic flaws in the Facebook Ad Library and identify misinformation in political advertisements, including many that were intended to sow distrust in the United States election system. According to her, “By suspending our accounts, Facebook has effectively put an end to all of this effort.”

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