CIPPIC Joins Mozilla-Led Call for Facebook to Follow Through on its Elections Transparency Promises

| February 12, 2019

CIPPIC has joined Mozilla, Access, Reporters Without Borders, and several other organizations in an open letter calling on Facebook to live up to its transparency promises. The letter calls out Facebook for blocking transparency tools employed by ProPublica, demanding that the platform provide API access to its promised political transparency tools. As is now widely acknowledged, Facebook and its various communications platforms have been leveraged by a wide range of political actors-both foreign and domestic-in their efforts to disrupt democratic processes in a number of jurisdictions around the world. Disinformation campaigns have become an instrumental force, evident in the UK's 'Vote Leave' referendum, the 2016 US Presidential elections, and the 2018 Brazilian elections which propelled far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency.

Against this backdrop, Facebook has undertaken various efforts to address these challenges. This has included a third-party academic body empowered to provide select academic researchers with access to elements of its content under controlled conditions. Among these is a novel 'open advertisement' mechanism designed to let individuals see all advertisements sent by a single entity through its platform. This tool is designed in part to address so-called 'dark advertising', where political actors send highly individualized and micro-targeted messages to different people based on their data-intensive profiling. Currently, only intended recipients see any given advertisement, allowing political actors to send conflicting or even discriminatory messaging with relative impunity. The problem is that Facebook has refused to provide API access to its open advertising platform, making it functionally difficult if not impossible to conduct the type of meaningful analysis necessary to meet the challenges posed by its services to democratic processes. Not only has Facebook refused to provide API access, but it has actively blocked existing tools used by ProPublica to supplement the shortcomings of its own transparency mechanisms. Meanwhile, a recent CBC study, which leveraged Twitter's API-enabled political messaging transparency tool, analyzed over 9 million tweets to demonstrate significant foreign influence in Canadian discussions surrounding pipelines and immigration. With upcoming federal elections in 2019, Canada cannot afford to be complacent about this issue.

Image Source: Yomare, "Hand Puppet Snowman", May 22, 2015, Pixabay, Pixabay License