This month, Meta also rolled out a new feature for political ads that allows the public to search for details about how advertisers target people based on their interests across Facebook and Instagram.
Yet, Meta has stifled other efforts to identify election misinformation on its sites.
It has stopped making improvements to CrowdTangle, a website it offered to newsrooms around the world that provides insights about trending social media posts. Journalists, fact-checkers and researchers used the website to analyze Facebook content, including tracing popular misinformation and who is responsible for it.
That tool is now “dying,” former CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman, who left Meta last year, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this spring.
Silverman told the AP that CrowdTangle had been working on upgrades that would make it easier to search the text of internet memes, which can often be used to spread half-truths and escape the oversight of fact-checkers, for example.
“There’s no real shortage of ways you can organize this data to make it useful for a lot of different parts of the fact-checking community, newsrooms and broader civil society,” Silverman said.
Not everyone at Meta agreed with that transparent approach, Silverman said. The company has not rolled out any new updates or features to CrowdTangle in more than a year, and it has experienced hourslong outages in recent months.
Meta also shut down efforts to investigate how misinformation travels through political ads.
The company indefinitely revoked access to Facebook for a pair of New York University researchers who they said collected unauthorized data from the platform. The move came hours after NYU professor Laura Edelson said she shared plans with the company to investigate the spread of disinformation on the platform around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which is now the subject of a House investigation.
“What we found, when we looked closely, is that their systems were probably dangerous for a lot of their users,” Edelson said.
Privately, former and current Meta employees say exposing those dangers around the American elections have created public and political backlash for the company.
Republicans routinely accuse Facebook of unfairly censoring conservatives, some of whom have been kicked off for breaking the company’s rules. Democrats, meanwhile, regularly complain the tech company hasn’t gone far enough to curb disinformation.
“It’s something that’s so politically fraught, they’re more trying to shy away from it than jump in head first.” said Harbath, the former Facebook policy director. “They just see it as a big old pile of headaches.”
Meanwhile, the possibility of regulation in the U.S. no longer looms over the company, with lawmakers failing to reach any consensus over what oversight the multibillion-dollar company should be subjected to.
Free from that threat, Meta’s leaders have devoted the company’s time, money and resources to a new project in recent months.
Zuckerberg dived into this massive rebranding and reorganization of Facebook last October, when he changed the company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc. He plans to spend years and billions of dollars evolving his social media platforms into a nascent virtual reality construct called the “metaverse” — sort of like the internet brought to life, rendered in 3D.
His public Facebook page posts now focus on product announcements, hailing artificial intelligence, and photos of him enjoying life. News about election preparedness is announced in company blog posts not written by him.
In one of Zuckerberg’s posts last October, after an ex-Facebook employee leaked internal documents showing how the platform magnifies hate and misinformation, he defended the company. He also reminded his followers that he had pushed Congress to modernize regulations around elections for the digital age.
“I know it’s frustrating to see the good work we do get mischaracterized, especially for those of you who are making important contributions across safety, integrity, research and product,” he wrote on Oct. 5. “But I believe that over the long term if we keep trying to do what’s right and delivering experiences that improve people’s lives, it will be better for our community and our business.”
It was the last time he discussed the Menlo Park, California-based company’s election work in a public Facebook post.
Associated Press technology writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.
— to whyy.org