At a time when securing the 2020 U.S. presidential election and election influence campaigns on social media are at the forefront of the news, Mozilla is claiming that a Facebook tool designed to examine campaign ads is not working as advertised.
Mozilla said in a blog post that information that's being released by Facebook through a publicly available API is inadequate in terms of detailing how campaign ads were behaving. The organization noted that the API did not disseminate targeting information, the data was not tagged properly and identical searches would produce very different results each time they were run.
“The state of the API made it nearly impossible to extract the data needed to populate the dashboard we were hoping to create to make this information more accessible,” Mozilla wrote, adding that Google had created a similar platform, but this one actually delivered the information Mozilla needed to put together a comprehensive dashboard that would show the impact of campaign ads.
“It took the entire month of April to figure out ways to work within or, rather, around the API to collect any information about the political ads running on the Facebook platform,” Mozilla said.
In order to spare other organizations from having to create their own workarounds, Mozilla created a doc of each time the API failed or became confusing to use, along with a series of tips others could use to get the most out of the API.
“We need Facebook to be better. We need an API that actually helps – not hinders – researchers and journalists uncover who is buying ads, the way these ads are being targeted and to whom they’re being served. It’s this important work that informs the public and policymakers about the nature and consequences of misinformation,” Mozilla concluded.
"We were the first to introduce this level of ads transparency and it remains a priority. That's why we work hard to address issues with the API and continually seek feedback from researchers and journalists,” a Facebook spokesperson told SC Media.