A recent report from the New York Times alleges that Facebook’s ad library, designed to increase transparency and fight disinformation, is so flawed, it has become effectively useless as a method by which to track political messaging.
A report from the New York Times titled “Ad Tool Facebook Built to Fight Disinformation Doesn’t Work as Advertised,” claims that researchers are not impressed with Facebook’s attempts to spread misinformation on the platform. Following allegations of social media being used to spread disinformation during the 2016 election, Facebook implemented an online library of all advertisements on the social network which it hoped would help the site become more transparent. However, researchers have found the service extremely lacking.
According to the report given to the Times by researchers at Mozilla, Facebook was made aware of the many issues plaguing the ad library but didn’t appear to take much notice of them:
The Mozilla researchers, who provided their report to The New York Times, had originally set out to track political advertising ahead of the European elections using the application program interface, or A.P.I., that Facebook set up to provide access to the library’s data. They instead ended up documenting problems with Facebook’s library after managing to download the information they needed on only two days in a six-week span because of bugs and technical issues, all of which they reported to Facebook.
In one instance, Jason Chuang, a Mozilla researcher, engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Facebook about a bug that crashed a search after 59 pages of results. Weeks later, a Facebook representative sent a message saying, “This is unfortunately a won’t fix for now.”
French officials also took issue with Facebook, in particular over the deletion of certain advertisements from the library just weeks before European elections:
In late May, Facebook reported there were 3.8 million ads in the American library. With each search limited to 2,000 results, the researchers needed to do 1,900 searches to collect all the data, “which we found impossible to achieve in the two weeks we tried,” they said.
The French officials also found that Facebook sometimes removed ads without explanation. They said 31 percent of the ads in the French library were removed in the week before the European elections, including at least 11 that violated French electoral law.
The company later told the researchers that the deletions were the result of a labeling problem. But Matti Schneider, the French foreign ministry official who oversaw the research, said it was important to see all the ads, even those that did not comply with Facebook’s labeling rules.
The deletions raise questions about “the trust one can put in research based on such shaky ground,” he said.
Read the full report at the New York Times here.