On the 4th September Facebook is closing down the only access researchers have for examining public page data. All other tools that access Facebook’s #API will be gone forever, work akin to my study of British political parties use of Facebook will never occur again. Facebook is hollowing out our abilities to hold the corporation and the powerful on the platform to account. Although Facebook has made forward, but deliberately small steps, in opening up access to targeted advertisements via its #AdLibrary.
On the other hand they are making it impossible for us to understand organic communications on the platform. Despite focus on targeted communications because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, organic communications matter enormously. From my analysis 108,000,000 video views were logged by #Conservative and #Labour pages one-month before the #2017GeneralElection, public page’s posts matter. Facebook are using the fallout from targeted advertising as cover.
Facebook is being turned into a #blackbox that no-one will have access to. Those who will get to research Facebook are going to become a specially chosen group of researchers (@SocSciOne). What chance have researchers got to ask difficult questions about the platform if Facebook, through Social Science One, are the arbiters? All of this presents an end to understanding Facebook at a time when its influence on participation is growing (Boulianne, 2017, 2018).
Most researchers don’t need SocSciOne‘s “privacy-preserving access to Facebook’s data through”, we just want access to public data that’s within the public interest. Every single public page’s historic and future data from Donald Trump to the Guardian, or Cristiano Ronaldo to CocaCola, will become inaccessible, with what is written unable to be held to account. Even just searching on Facebook is restricted.
All of this presents a deliberate war on knowledge occurring via Facebook, and they have made no attempts to communicate or answer researchers concerns. It’s still possible for Facebook to rethink its data policy in a way that respects individual privacy and limits the potential for data misuse, but also promotes transparency, accountability and independent research. If Facebook does not alter course, it will catastrophically undermine our ability not only to understand the social network machine and its millions of pages, but also the entire political and social order that the internet has created. People are trying, but we must do more than this petition . We must make Facebook listen. People of greater importance than me need to speak up.