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Facebook Boots NYU Disinformation Researchers Off Its Platform And Critics Cry Foul

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Facebook cut off access to NYU researchers studying political ads and COVID-19 misinformation, saying their work violated its terms of service.

Jenny Kane/AP


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Jenny Kane/AP

Facebook cut off access to NYU researchers studying political ads and COVID-19 misinformation, saying their work violated its terms of service.

Jenny Kane/AP

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Facebook has blocked a team of New York University researchers studying political ads and COVID-19 misinformation from accessing its site, a move that critics say is meant to silence research that makes the company look bad.

The researchers at the NYU Ad Observatory launched a tool last year to collect data about the political ads people see on Facebook. Around 16,000 people have installed the browser extension. It enables them to share data with the researchers about which ads the users are shown and why those ads were targeted at them.

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had disabled the researchers’ personal accounts, pages, apps and access to its platform.

Facebook Keeps Data Secret, Letting Conservative Bias Claims Persist

“NYU’s Ad Observatory project studied political ads using unauthorized means to access and collect data from Facebook, in violation of our terms of service,” Mike Clark, Facebook’s product management director, wrote in a blog post.

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He said Facebook took action “to stop unauthorized scraping and protect people’s privacy” in compliance with an agreement it reached with the Federal Trade Commission in 2019, when it paid a $5 billion penalty stemming from the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal.

But on Wednesday, the researchers said they’re not gathering private information about Facebook users.

“We really don’t collect anything that isn’t an ad, that isn’t public, and we’re pretty careful about how we do it,” said Laura Edelson, a doctoral candidate at NYU who helps lead the research project and whose account Facebook disabled. She noted that the code for the browser extension is public and that it has been reviewed by outside experts.

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Facebook says the browser extension violates its privacy rules because it collects information about advertisers, including their names, Facebook IDs and photos. The company says the data collected by the tool could also be used to identify information about users who interacted with the ads but did not consent to share their information.

Damon McCoy, an associate professor at NYU who was also cut off from Facebook, said he believes the company is using privacy claims as a pretext because it’s unhappy with the team’s research.

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“It feels like Facebook is trying to intimidate us, and not just us, but they’re trying to send a message to other independent researchers that are trying to study their platform,” he said. “We need transparency and accountability.”

Research revealed Facebook’s failures ahead of 2020 election

NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy, the team of researchers behind the Ad Observatory project, found misleading political ads thriving on Facebook in November 2020 despite the platform’s policies; uncovered flaws in the company’s political ad disclosures; and tracked the degree to which right-wing misinformation gets more engagement on the platform. They are also part of a project that is tracking false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines on social media, a subject that has become a source of tension between Facebook and the White House in recent weeks.

“This is sort of a blind men and an elephant problem,” Edelson said.

To gain a more complete picture of disinformation on Facebook, she said, “we really need to be able to put the pieces together, from the way ads that advertise a certain message are publicized to the way they’re targeted” to messages that aren’t ads but that are posted by people looking to spread false information in a coordinated way.

Far-Right Misinformation Is Thriving On Facebook. A New Study Shows Just How Much
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Facebook publishes its own library of political ads with information about who paid for an ad and when it ran, but it does not include details on how ads are targeted to specific subsets of users. It does make ad targeting data available to researchers who participate in a program it controls.

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In the blog post, Facebook’s Clark said that the company offers researchers “privacy-protective methods to collect and analyze data” and that “we welcome research that holds us accountable, and doesn’t compromise the security of our platform or the privacy of the people who use it.”

The NYU researchers say their work is an important independent check on Facebook.

“We don’t think Facebook should get to decide who gets to study it and who doesn’t,” Edelson said.

Facebook declined to comment further on Edelson and McCoy’s claims.

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Congress urged to require more transparency in online ads

On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called Facebook’s decision to disable the NYU team’s access “deeply concerning.”

“For several years now, I have called on social media platforms like Facebook to work with, and better empower, independent researchers, whose efforts consistently improve the integrity and safety of social media platforms by exposing harmful and exploitative activity,” he said in a statement. “Instead, Facebook has seemingly done the opposite.”

Facebook Calls Links To Depression Inconclusive. These Researchers Disagree

Warner also called on Congress “to act to bring greater transparency to the shadowy world of online advertising.”

Fellow Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also slammed the social network, writing in a Twitter post: “After years of abusing users’ privacy, it’s rich for Facebook to use it as an excuse to crack down on researchers exposing its problems.”

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Wyden said he had contacted the FTC to ask about Facebook’s claim that it was concerned the NYU tool violated its privacy order, calling that excuse “bogus.”

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The FTC declined to comment.

Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, said Facebook’s decision to cut off the NYU team illustrates how powerful the platform has become — and why lawmakers need to act.

“The company functions as a gatekeeper to journalism and research about how the company’s platform works and the impact of its platform on society. And we think that that is untenable,” she said. “The public urgently needs to know and needs to understand the implications of Facebook’s platform for public discourse and democracy.”

The Knight Institute, which is representing NYU’s Edelson and McCoy in this matter, urged Facebook back in 2018 to create a “safe harbor” provision in its terms of service that would allow academics and journalists to research and collect data from its platform, while protecting users’ privacy. But, Krishnan, said negotiations with the company ended in a stalemate.

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Now, she said, the solution lies in Washington. She says Congress should “mandate transparency” on social media platforms and create a safe harbor law protecting research.

“We’re not saying that Facebook doesn’t have legitimate reasons for, in general, prohibiting scraping,” she said. “But intentionally or not, those prohibitions are also impeding journalists’ and researchers’ ability to study, understand and report about the platform.”

Editor’s note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.

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Now people can share directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps

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More people are creating, sharing and watching Reels than ever before. We’ve seen the creator community dive deeply into video content – and use it to connect with their communities. We’re running a limited alpha test that lets creators share video content directly from select integrated apps to Instagram Reels. Now, creators won’t be interrupted in their workflow, making it easier for them share share and express themselves on Reels.

“With the shift to video happening across almost all online platforms, our innovative tools and services empower creativity and fuel the creator economy and we are proud to be able to offer a powerful editing tool like Videoleap that allows seamless content creation, while partnering with companies like Meta to make sharing content that much easier.”- Zeev Farbman, CEO and co-founder of Lightricks.

Starting this month, creators can share short videos directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps, including Videoleap, Reface, Smule, VivaVideo, SNOW, B612, VITA and Zoomerang, with more coming soon. These apps and others also allow direct sharing to Facebook , which is available for any business with a registered Facebook App to use.

We hope to expand this test to more partners in 2023. If you’re interested in being a part of that beta program, please fill out this form and we will keep track of your submission. We do not currently have information to share about general availability of this integration.

Learn more here about sharing Stories and Reels to Facebook and Instagram and start building today.

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FAQs

Q. What is the difference between the Instagram Content Publishing API and Instagram Sharing to Reels?

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A: Sharing to Reels is different from the Instagram Content Publishing API, which allows Instagram Business accounts to schedule and publish posts to Instagram from third-party platforms. Sharing to Reels is specifically for mobile apps to display a ‘Share to Reels’ widget. The target audience for the Share to Reels widget is consumers, whereas the Content Publishing API is targeted towards businesses, including third-party publishing platforms such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social that consolidate sharing to social media platforms within their third-party app.

Q: Why is Instagram partnering with other apps?

A: Creators already use a variety of apps to create and edit videos before uploading them to Instagram Reels – now we’re making that experience faster and easier. We are currently doing a small test of an integration with mobile apps that creators know and love, with more coming soon.

Q: How can I share my video from another app to Reels on Instagram?

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A: How it works (Make sure to update the mobile app you’re using to see the new Share to Reels option):

  • Create and edit your video in one of our partner apps
  • Once your video is ready, tap share and then tap the Instagram Reels icon
  • You will enter the Instagram Camera, where you can customize your reel with audio, effects, Voiceover and stickers. Record any additional clips or swipe up to add an additional clip from your camera roll.
  • Tap ‘Next’ to add a caption, hashtag, location, tag others or use the paid partnerships label.
  • Tap ‘Share’. Your reel will be visible where you share reels today, depending on your privacy settings.
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Q: How were partners selected?

A. We are currently working with a small group of developers that focus on video creation and editing as early partners. We’ll continue to expand to apps with other types of creation experiences.

Q: When will other developers be able to access Sharing to Reels on Instagram?

A: We do not currently have a date for general availability, but are planning to expand further in 2023.

Q: Can you share to Facebook Reels from other apps?

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A: Yes, Facebook offers the ability for developers to integrate with Sharing to Reels. For more information on third-party sharing opportunities, check out our entire suite of sharing offerings .

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What to know about Presto SQL query engine and PrestoCon

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The open source Presto SQL query engine is used by a diverse set of companies to navigate increasingly large data workflows. These companies are using Presto in support of e-commerce, cloud, security and other areas. Not only do many companies use Presto, but individuals from those companies are also active contributors to the Presto open source community.

In support of that community, Presto holds meetups around the world and has an annual conference, PrestoCon, where experts and contributors gather to exchange knowledge. This year’s PrestoCon, hosted by the Linux Foundation, takes place December 7-8 in Mountain View, CA. This blog post will explore some foundational elements of Presto and what to expect at this year’s PrestoCon.

What is Presto?

Presto is a distributed SQL query engine for data platform teams. Presto users can perform interactive queries on data where it lives using ANSI SQL across federated and diverse sources. Query engines allow data scientists and analysts to focus on building dashboards and utilizing BI tools so that data engineers can focus on storage and management, all while communicating through a unified connection layer.

In short, the scientist does not have to consider how or where data is stored, and the engineer does not have to optimize for every use case for the data sources they manage. You can learn more about Presto in a recent ELI5 video below.

Caption: Watch the video by clicking on the image above.

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Presto was developed to solve the problem of petabyte-scale, multi-source data queries taking hours or days to return. These resources and time constraints make real-time analysis impossible. Presto can return results from those same queries in less than a second in most cases, allowing for interactive data exploration.

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Not only is it highly scalable, but it’s also extensible, allowing you to build your own connector for any data source Presto does not already support. At a low level, Presto also supports a wide range of file types for query processing. Presto was open sourced by Meta and later donated to the Linux Foundation in September of 2019.

Here are some Presto resources for those who are new to the community:

What is PrestoCon?

PrestoCon is held annually in the Bay Area and hosted by the Linux Foundation. This year, the event takes place December 7-8 at the Computer History Museum. You can register here. Each year at PrestoCon, you can hear about the latest major evolutions of the platform, how different organizations use Presto and what plans the Technical Steering Committee has for Presto in the coming year.

Presto’s scalability is especially apparent as every year we hear from small startups, as well as industry leaders like Meta and Uber, who are using the Presto platform for different use cases, whether those are small or large. If you’re looking to contribute to open source, PrestoCon is a great opportunity for networking as well as hearing the vision that the Technical Steering Committee has for the project in the coming year.

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Explore what’s happening at PrestoCon 2022:

Where is Presto used?

Since its release in November of 2013, Presto has been used as an integral part of big data pipelines within Meta and other massive-scale companies, including Uber and Twitter.

The most common use case is connecting business intelligence tools to vast data sets within an organization. This enables crucial questions to be answered faster and data-driven decision-making can be more efficient.

How does Presto work?

First, a coordinator takes your statement and parses it into a query. The internal planner generates an optimized plan as a series of stages, which are further separated into tasks. Tasks are then assigned to workers to process in parallel.

Workers then use the relevant connector to pull data from the source.

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The output of each task is returned by the workers, until the stage is complete. The stage’s output is returned by the final worker towards the next stage, where another series of tasks must be executed.

The results of stages are combined, eventually returning the final result of the original statement to the coordinator, which then returns to the client.

How do I get involved?

To start using Presto, go to prestodb.io and click Get Started.

We would love for you to join the Presto Slack channel if you have any questions or need help. Visit the community page on the Presto website to see all the ways you can get involved and find other users and developers interested in Presto.

If you would like to contribute, go to the GitHub repository and read over the Contributors’ Guide.

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Where can I learn more?

To learn more about Presto, check out its website for installation guides, user guides, conference talks and samples.

Make sure you check out previous Presto talks, and attend the annual PrestoCon event if you are able to do so.

To learn more about Meta Open Source, visit our open source site, subscribe to our YouTube channel, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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How to Interpret Webhook Components in the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The ways customers want to connect are changing. The WhatsApp Business Platform gives businesses an integrated way to communicate with customers right where they are. In order to integrate properly when using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta, you’ll need to leverage webhooks so applications have a way to respond to events. Webhooks allow your application to monitor three primary events on WhatsApp so you can react with different functionality depending on your goals.

This article looks at these three components, goes through the information they carry, and provides some use-case scenarios to give you an idea of the possibilities.

Interpreting Different Webhook Components

To send and receive messages on WhatsApp, it’s critical to keep track of statuses and errors to help ensure you’re communicating effectively with your customers, which you can do with webhooks.

With webhooks, the WhatsApp Business Platform monitors events and sends notifications when one occurs. These events are one of three components: messages, statuses, and errors.

Let’s explore each of these and examine examples of how you can use them.

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Messages

The messages component is the largest of the three event types and contains two core objects:

  • Contacts — which contain information about the message’s sender.

  • Messages — which provide information about a message’s type and contents.

These two event types allow your application to manage and respond to people that interact with your application. The contacts object contains two pieces of information: name and WhatsApp Id. The contact’s name allows your application to use their name without further lookups. In contrast, the contact’s WhatsApp ID lets you keep track of these contacts or use the contacts/ endpoint to add additional functionality.

For instance, you can verify the customer and start the opt-in process within the customer-initiated conversation, which allows you to message them outside the initial 24-hour response window. It’s important to note that only the text, contacts, and location message types provide contact information.

The message object is where the bulk of the information is stored, including the message contents, type of message, and other relevant information. Depending on the message type, the actual payload of the message component can vary widely. It’s crucial to determine the message type to understand the potential payload. Message types include:

  • Text: a standard text-only message

  • Contact: contains a user’s full contact details

  • Location: address, latitude, and longitude

  • Unknown: unsupported messages from users, which usually contain errors.

  • Ephemeral: disappearing messages

  • Media message types: contain information for the specified media file. These types include:

    • Document

    • Image

    • Audio

    • Video

    • Voice

These different data types can have very different uses, from reviewing images and screenshots from concerned customers to collecting information about where to ship goods and send services. To use these different data types most effectively, you can create applications to handle different forms of communication, with functionalities such as:

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  • Ask your customers to provide a shipping or mailing address. You can use the location-based message feature to capture your users’ location to determine where to send their goods and services.

  • Show customers products and communicate product details through a message. You can use the referred_product field within messages to offer your users specific product details. Using this field develops a more personal, conversational shopping experience and customer interactions.

  • Build support functionality that allows customers to take and send images and videos of product concerns, and submit those for a support case. Once the user has submitted a support ticket, the app can track the case — including steps taken towards resolution and conversations between support teams and the customer through WhatsApp — using a unique case identifier.

These are just some potential features you can build using the interactivity provided by webhooks and the message object. These features extend your current communication channels and provide additional options for customers.

Statuses

Where the messages component provides your application with insight into events that originate directly from your customers, the statuses component keeps track of the results of messages you send and the conversation history. There are six status components:

  • Sent: the application sent your message and is in transit.
  • Delivered: the user’s device successfully received the message.
  • Read: the user has read your message.
  • Deleted: a user deleted a message that you sent.
  • Warning: a message sent by your application contains an item that isn’t available or doesn’t exist.
  • Failed: a message sent by your application failed to arrive.

Status components also contain information on the recipient ID, the conversation, and the pricing related to the current conversation. Conversations on WhatsApp are a grouping of messages within a 24-hour window that are either user-initiated or business-initiated. Keeping track of these conversations is vital, as a new conversation occurs when you send additional responses after the 24-hour period ends.

Some functionality you may want to add to your application based on status events includes:

  • Ensuring your application has sent generated messages, they arrived, and the recipient potentially read them by using a combination of these status types and timestamps within the status object. This information allows your application to follow up with customers if they didn’t engage.
  • Keep analytical information about your application’s messages, especially regarding business-initiated conversations. For example, if your application uses a WhatsApp customer contact list to send offer messages, the status component helps you understand how many were sent, delivered, read, responded to, or failed to measure your campaign’s success.

Errors

Finally, the errors component allows your application to receive any out-of-band errors within WhatsApp that affect your platform. These errors don’t stop your application from compiling or working but are typically caused when your application is misusing specific functionality. The following are some typical errors.

Error Code 368, Temporarily Blocked for Policy Violations

If your application violates WhatsApp Business Messaging or Commerce policy, your account may be temporarily banned. You can monitor this and pause your application while troubleshooting.

Error 506, Duplicate Post

If your workflows unintentionally generate duplicate messages, you can monitor this to find the source.

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Error 131043, Message Expired

Sometimes, messages are not sent during their time to live (TTL) duration. Use this code to know which messages to schedule for resending if needed.

Error handling is a broad, complex subject, and there are many other use cases for which you should be implementing error handling. The errors component helps extend your error handling on the WhatsApp Business Platform for greater consistency.

Conclusion

This article took a high-level look at messages, statuses, and errors returned by webhooks and explored ways you can use these three components to expand your application’s functionality.

Messages provide information on customer interactions, statuses give insight into messages your app sends, and error notices enable you to increase your application’s resilience. Webhooks are critical to ensuring your app interacts with customers seamlessly.

The WhatsApp Business Platform’s webhooks provide your applications with real-time data, enabling you to build better experiences as you interact with customers. Ready to know more? Dive deeper into everything the WhatsApp Business Platform has to offer.

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