Researchers who rely on data provided by Facebook may have lost years or even months of work because they rely too heavily on it. According to The New York Times, the social network provided them with incomplete and inaccurate information about how users interact with posts and other links on the site.
Facebook has provided academics with access to its data for the past few years in order to track misinformation spread on the platform. Although Facebook promised transparency and access to all user interactions, the data it has been providing researchers does not include the US users. The reports also show that most users who had interactions with the company were those who engaged in enough political discussions to reveal their views.
Facebook sent researchers an email in which it apologized for any inconveniences that it may have caused. They were also informed by Facebook that they are working to fix the problem, although it may take several weeks due to the large amount of data that must be processed. However, Facebook assured the researchers that the data it received from users outside the US was accurate.
Mavis Jones, a Facebook spokesperson, said that the inaccuracy was due to a "technical mistake" which the company is "working quickly to fix." According to The Times, Fabio Giglietto, an associate professor at the University of Urbino, was the first to notice the error. Giglietto compared data given to researchers with the "Widely Viewed Content Report", a social network that was published in August, and found no match.
After the report was published, other researchers raised concerns. Alice Marwick, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, said that they could not verify the results because they didn't have access to the data Facebook used. According to reports, the company held a conference call with researchers Friday to apologize. Megan Squire was one of the researchers who said to The Times that there were 47 people present today. "From a human perspective, every one of these projects is at risk and some are destroyed completely," she stated.
Researchers have used their own tools to collect information. However, Facebook has cut their access in at least one case. The accounts associated with NYU Ad Observatory were disabled by Facebook in August. The browser extension was used by the team to gather information about political ads. However, Facebook claimed that it was not authorized scraping. The project's leader researcher Laura Edelson told Engadget at the time that Facebook was censoring the team because their "work often draws attention to problems on its platforms." Edelson said: "If this episode proves anything, it is that Facebook shouldn't have the veto power over who can study them."