Facebook’s Filter Study Raises Questions About Transparency

Will Knight in MIT Technology Review: “Facebook is an enormously valuable source of information about social interactions.

Facebook’s latest scientific research, about the way it shapes the political perspectives users are exposed to, has led some academics to call for the company to be more open about what it chooses to study and publish.

This week the company’s data science team published a paper in the prominent journal Science confirming what many had long suspected: that the network’s algorithms filter out some content that might challenge a person’s political leanings. However, the paper also suggested that the effect was fairly small, and less significant than a user’s own filtering behavior (see “Facebook Says You Filter News More Than Its Algorithm Does”).
Several academics have pointed to limitations of the study, such as the fact that the only people involved had indicated their political affiliation on their Facebook page. Critics point out that those users might behave in a different way from everyone else. But beyond that, a few academics have noted a potential tension between Facebook’s desire to explore the scientific value of its data and its own corporate interests….

In response to the controversy over that study, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, wrote a Facebook post that acknowledged people’s concerns and described new guidelines for its scientific research. “We’ve created a panel including our most senior subject-area researchers, along with people from our engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams, that will review projects falling within these guidelines,” he wrote….(More)