Call on Facebook to lift restrictions on digital research and journalism on its platform
Mark Zuckerberg
Chief Executive Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025


Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

We are digital researchers who study the architecture and operations of social media platforms. Recently, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University proposed that Facebook amend its terms of service to establish a “safe harbor” for public-interest research and journalism focused on its platform.[1] This safe harbor would permit researchers and journalists to study Facebook’s platform using basic tools of digital investigation that would otherwise violate Facebook’s terms of service. We write in support of that proposal.

Digital research and journalism serve the public interest by advancing public understanding of the social media platforms. These platforms—and Facebook’s in particular—have a powerful but poorly understood influence on public discourse and, by extension, on societies around the world. Because of the scale and complexity of the platforms, those of us who study them rely on digital tools to carry out our work. However, the terms of service of many of the social media companies—including Facebook—prohibit the use of even the most basic of these tools, specifically, the automated collection of public information and the creation and use of temporary research accounts. Researchers and journalists who use these tools risk account suspensions and shutdowns, legal liability for breach of contract, and, under a legal interpretation at times embraced by the U.S. Department of Justice and Facebook, potentially even civil and criminal liability under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Understandably, policymakers and others are calling on Facebook to better protect its users’ privacy, and to better protect its platform against exploitation by third parties. We believe that establishing a safe harbor, however, would permit us to do our work without impeding Facebook’s ability to protect the privacy of its users and the integrity of its platform. The Knight Institute’s proposal, for example, is focused exclusively on public information, applies only to projects designed to inform the general public about matters of public concern, and prohibits privacy-invasive uses of data.

In a public response to the Knight Institute’s proposal, Facebook acknowledged that its terms of service “sometimes get in the way of [researchers’ and journalists’] work.” Facebook contended, though, that researchers and journalists can obtain the data they need through other channels. This is mainly not true. Tools like CrowdTangle and Facebook’s developer APIs are designed to serve the interests of businesses, not the public, and the data they make available is correspondingly limited. Other channels that are explicitly designed for researchers and journalists—for example, Facebook’s Ad Archive API—provide access only to very specific categories of data, rely on a credentialing system that potentially jeopardizes the integrity of investigations, and do not allow researchers and journalists to test how Facebook’s algorithms respond to different profiles and prompts. While Facebook’s partnership with the Social Science Research Council is commendable, it is not a substitute for the proposed safe harbor. For example, it is confined to peer-reviewed research, which excludes journalists, and it is focused only on the effects of social media on democracy and elections.

There is extraordinary public interest in understanding the influence of social media platforms on society. Yet Facebook’s prohibition on the use of basic digital tools obstructs much of the work that could be done to understand that influence. We urge Facebook to amend its terms of service to establish a safe harbor for public-interest research and journalism.

Sincerely,

SIGNATORIES (affiliations for identification purposes only)

Eulàlia P. Abril
University of Illinois at Chicago

Gunes Acar
Princeton University

Sana Ahmad
Freie Universität, Berlin

Shakira Ali
Western Sydney University

Susanne Almgren
Karlstad University

Ioannis Angelou
School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Daniel Angus
Queensland University of Technology

Diana Ascher
Director, Information Studies Research Lab, UCLA

Amar Ashar
Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University

Olga Bailey
Nottingham Trent University

Kim Barbour
The University of Adelaide

Ipek Baris
University of Koblenz and Landau

Michael Beam
Kent State University

Ayşenur Benevento
Assistant Professor, Abdullah Gül University - Turkey

Priyanjana Bengani
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University

Ruha Benjamin
Princeton University

Tobias Blanke
Head of Department Digital Humanities, King's College London

Melissa Bliss
Queen Mary University of London

Svetlana Bodrunova
St. Petersburg State University, Russia

Gillian Bolsover
Lecturer in Politics and Media, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, UK

Catherine Bouko
Ghent Univerisity

Roberta Bracciale
University of Pisa, Italy

Igor Brigadir
Insight Centre for Data Analytics

Pete Brown
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University

Axel Bruns
Professor, Queensland University of Technology, President, Association of Internet Researchers

Earvin Charles Cabalquinto
Deakin University

Laura Calabrese
Université libre de Bruxelles

Stephen Carradini
Arizona State University

Shira Chess
The University of Georgia

Bertha Chin
Swinburne University of Technology

Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer
Kozminski University

Lynn Schofield Clark
University of Denver

Òscar Coromina
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Samsara Counts
George Washington University

Sara Creta
Dublin City University

Sky Croeser
Curtin University

Carlos d'Andréa
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil

gaby david
Sorbonne Nouvelle / Paris 8

Jenny L. Davis
The Australian National University

Ehsan Dehghan
Queensland University of Technology

Anastasia Denisova
University of Westminster

Nick Diakopoulos
Northwestern University

Amra Dorjbayar
Journalist, VRT NWS

Nadia Dresscher-Lambertus
University of Aruba

Serge Egelman
U.C. Berkeley, ICSI

Katharina Esau
University of Dusseldorf

Johan Farkas
Malmö University

Michelle Ferrier
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University; TrollBusters

Giancarlo Fiorella
Bellingcat

Richard Forno
UMBC

Deen Freelon
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Matteo Gagliolo
Université libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

Aoife Gallagher
Journalist, Storyful

Marloes Geboers
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Korina Giaxoglou
The Open University, UK

Teresa Gil
University of California, Davis

April Glaser
Slate, Technology Journalist

Oana Goga
CNRS

Jonathan Gray
King's College London

Karen Gregory
University of Edinburgh

Ben Grosser
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Joeb Høfdinghoff Grønborg
Aarhus University, Denmark

Anatoliy Gruzd
Ryerson University

Akshith Gunasekaran
Oregon State University

Jennifer Hagedorn
Sydney University

Alexander Halavais
Arizona State University

Sharon Haleva-Amir
Bar-Ilan University

Esther Hammelburg
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Kjeld Hansen
Kristiania University College

Bennett Hanson
Global Press Journal

Michael Haugh
The University of Queensland, Head of School of Languages and Cultures

Anne Helmond
University of Amsterdam

Jeff Hemsley
Syracuse University

Natalie Hendry
Deakin University

Paul Henman
The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Erika M Heredia
University of Central Florida

Alfred Hermida
University of British Columbia

Cameron Hickey
Harvard Kennedy School

Eliot Higgins
Bellingcat (Founder)

Travis Holland
Charles Sturt University

Ariel Holtzman
University of Washington

Tsvetelina Hristova
Western Sydney University

Jordan Huffaker
University of Michigan

Lee Humphreys
Cornell University

Jeremy Hunsinger
Wilfrid Laurier / Collaboratory for Digital Discourse and Culture, Virginia Tech

Edward Hurcombe
Queensland University of Technology

Myiah Hutchens
University of Florida

Jonathon Hutchinson
University of Sydney

Andrew Iliadis
Temple University

Muhammad Imran
Qatar Computing Research Institute

Daniel Jackson
Bournemouth University, UK

Dariusz Jemielniak
Kozminski University

Ishaan Jhaveri
Research Fellow, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University

Mengtian Jiang
University of Kentucky

Nicholas John
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mark D. Johns
Professor Emeritus, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa

Jeremy David Johnson
Penn State University

Magdalena Kania-Lundholm
Uppsala University

Amir Karami
University of South Carolina

David Karger
MIT

Christian Katzenbach
Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, Berlin

Brian Keegan
University of Colorado Boulder

Tobias R. Keller
U of Zurich

Jennifer King
Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School

Eleni Kioumi
Independent Researcher

Ofra Klein
European University Institute

Samuel Klein
MIT Knowledge Futures Group

Ulrike Klinger
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Karolina Koc-Michalska
Associate Prof., Audencia Business School, France

Alexa Koenig
University of California, Berkeley

Aleksandra Korolova
University of Southern California

Lenka Krsova
Charles University

Simon Kruschinski
Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

Salla-Maaria Laaksonen
University of Helsinki

Sarah Labelle
Université Paris 13 - LabSIC

Rohini Lakshané
Director (Emerging Research), The Bachchao Project

Vasileios Lampos
University College London

Anders Olof Larsson
Kristiania University College

Laurens Lauer
University of Duisburg-Essen

Fredrik Laurin
Swedish Television

Tama Leaver
Curtin University

Jessa Lingel
University of Pennsylvania

Ioana Literat
Assistant Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University

Tetyana Lokot
Dublin City University, Ireland

Philip Mai
Ryerson University Social Media Lab

Mariana Marcondes
University of Edinburgh

Fiona Martin
University of Sydney

Maureen Mauk
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Anthony McCosker
Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne

Susan E McGregor
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Xanat Vargas Meza
Kobe Design University

Jozef Michal Mintal
UMB Data&Society Lab, Matej Bel University

Valériane Mistiaen
Université libre de Bruxelles

Karine Nahon
Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and University of Washington

Arvind Narayanan
Princeton University

Saadia Ishtiaq Nauman
University of Stirling

Matti Nelimarkka
University of Helsinki

Travis Noakes
The Noakes Foundation

Brendan O’Connor
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Caio Cesar G. Oliveira
Pontificia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC Minas) - Brazil

Ragnhild Kr. Olsen
BI Norwegian Business School and Oslo Metropolitan College

Thomas Olsson
Tampere University

Aviv Ovadya
Thoughtful Technology Project, founder

Chankyung Pak
University of Amsterdam

Henna Paakki
Aalto University

Jason Paladino
UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program

Jyoti Panday
Telecom Centre of Excellence, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

Giuseppe Pappalardo
University of Palermo

William Clyde Partin
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Nathan Patin
Bellingcat

Cameron Piercy
University of Kansas

Matti Pohjonen
Lecturer, SOAS, University of London

Nathaniel Poor
Underwood Institute

Kevin Poulsen
The Daily Beast

Kelly Quinn
University of Illinois at Chicago

Raquel Recuero
Universidade Federal de Pelotas

Shams ur Rehman
Karakoram International University, Gilgit, Pakistan

Paul Reilly
University of Sheffield

Brady Robards
Monash University, Australia

Luca Rossi
IT University of Copenhagen

Jean-Hugues Roy
Université du Québec à Montréal

Troels Runge
IT University of Copenhagen

Agnese Sampietro
University Jaume I

Mathias Felipe de Lima Santos
University of Navarra

Andrew R. Schrock
Independent Scholar

Sander Andreas Schwartz
Roskilde University

Yearry Panji Setianto
Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa University

Kalpana Shankar
University College Dublin

Helena Sheehan
Emeritus Professor, Dublin City University

Eugenia Siapera
University College Dublin

Andra Siibak
Professor of Media Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia

David E. Silva
Kent State University

Tarcizio Silva
Universidade Federal do ABC

Inderjeet Singh
University of Delhi

Sarvjeet Singh
Center for Communication Governance at National Law University Delhi

Megan Squire
Elon University

Tim Squirrell
University of Edinburgh

Molly Wright Steenson
Carnegie Mellon University

Jennifer Stromer-Galley
Syracuse University

S. Shyam Sundar
Penn State University

Nicolas Suzor
QUT Digital Media Research Centre

Jakob Svensson
Malmö University

Raquel Tarullo
Universidad Nacional del Noroeste de la Prov. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Alec Tefertiller
Kansas State University

Maurizio Tesconi
IIT - CNR - Italy

T.J. Thomson
Queensland University of Technology

Kjerstin Thorson
Michigan State University

Katrin Tiidenberg
Associate Professor, Tallinn University, Estonia

Giuliana Tiripelli
De Montfort University

Benjamin Toff
University of Minnesota

Samuel Trosow
University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Law / Faculty of Information & Media Studies

Verity Trott
Monash University

Tor Henning Ueland
Dagbladet

Sonja Utz
Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (Knowledge Media Research Center)

Siva Vaidhyanathan
The University of Virginia

Emily van der Nagel
Monash University, Australia

Henk van Ess
Bellingcat

Mariangela Veikou
Tilburg University

Tommaso Venturini
CNRS

Maurice Vergeer
Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Paloma Viejo Otero
Dublin City University

Gerret von Nordheim
Universität Hamburg

Ariadne Vromen
University of Sydney

Jarrod Walczer
Queensland University of Technology

Oscar Westlund
OsloMet

Kunto Wibowo
Universitas Padjadjaran, Indonesia

Chriss Williams
Harvard Divinity School, Graduate

Scott Wright
University of Melbourne

Ermelinda Xheza
University of Amsterdam

Augustine Zenakos
Journalist, The Manifold

Jonathan Zittrain
Harvard University

***

[1] https://knightcolumbia.org/sites/default/files/content/Facebook_Letter.pdf

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