Researchers say Facebook is interfering with their tools to study News Feed


Facebook quietly pushed out modifications to News Feed that’s “interfering” with the browser-based tools utilized by journalists and researchers, according to The Markup, the nonprofit information group behind Citizen Browser.

According to the report, Facebook has been including “junk code to HTML features meant to improve accessibility for visually impaired users.” The ensuing code prevents browsers from robotically amassing information about posts in News Feed, and may be hindering display readers utilized by blind and visually impaired customers.

The change has affected each The Markup’s Citizen Browser, in addition to New York University’s Ad Observer, a browser extension that has helped researchers study political adverts and vaccine misinformation. These varieties of browser-based tools have change into to researchers making an attempt to study points like advert concentrating on and misinformation. Researchers say these tools, which permit customers to make the posts from their feeds accessible to lecturers and journalists, is one of many solely methods to entry essential information about how News Feed works.

Laura Edelson, lead researcher at NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy, which runs Ad Observer, stated Facebook’s modifications “had the effect of breaking Ad Observer” although they have been ready to discover a workaround.

In a press release, a Facebook spokesperson stated that the company was “investigating” the claims. “We constantly make code changes across our services, but we did not make recent code changes to block these research projects,” the spokesperson stated. “Our accessibility features largely appear to be working as normal, however, we are investigating the claimed disruptions.”

The code change is the newest dustup between Facebook and researchers who say Facebook has hindered their efforts to perceive what’s taking place on its platform. Last month, the company disabled the personal Facebook accounts of NYU researchers working with Ad Observer saying they broke the company’s privateness guidelines. (The FTC later Facebook for making “misleading” feedback about its causes for taking these actions.)

There are different implications to the modifications. As The Markup and Edelson level out, the modifications might have an effect on display readers, an essential accessibility know-how. They cite at the least one occasion of the code showing to trigger a display reader to learn out a few of these “junk” characters. The modifications might have additionally contributed to issues with some advert blockers.

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