Open letter signed by Mozilla demands Facebook take 'real action' against disinformation

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Mozilla has sent an open letter to Facebook calling on the social network to do more to fight disinformation and asking for increased transparency about political advertising.

The letter -- also signed by 32 other organizations including human rights and press freedom groups -- has been sent to Facebook in the run-up to the 2019 EU Parliamentary Elections. It comes after Mozilla's COO wrote to the European Commission to express her concerns about the lack of transparency at Facebook.

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While Facebook has made numerous vows to Europe about its plans to improve the transparency of political ads, there is concern that the social media giant is failing to make good on its promises.

The letter calls on Facebook to open up the Ad Archive API to make it easier to analyze political advertisements, and that sponsors of political ads are identified. Mozilla says that "we have a right to know who is paying to influence our vote, and Facebook is responsible for making sure that happens on their platform", and it accuses Facebook of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Facebook:

We are writing you today as a group of technologists, human rights defenders, academics, journalists and Facebook users who are deeply concerned about the validity of Facebook’s promises to protect European users from targeted disinformation campaigns during the European Parliamentary elections. You have promised European lawmakers and users that you will increase the transparency of political advertising on the platform to prevent abuse during the elections. But in the very same breath, you took measures to block access to transparency tools that let your users see how they are being targeted.

In the company’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the most important principles around data are transparencychoice and control. By restricting access to advertising transparency tools available to Facebook users, you are undermining transparencyeliminating the choice of your users to install tools that help them analyse political ads, and wielding control over good faith researchers who try to review data on the platform. Your alternative to these third party tools provides simple keyword search functionality and does not provide the level of data access necessary for meaningful transparency.

Actions speak louder than words. That’s why you must take action to meaningfully deliver on the commitments made to the EU institutions notably the increased transparency that you’ve promised. Promises and press statements aren’t enough; instead, we need to see real action over the coming months, and we will be exploring ways to hold Facebook accountable if that action isn’t sufficient.

Specifically, we ask that you implement the following measures by 1 April 2019 to give developers sufficient lead time to create transparency tools in advance of the elections:

  • Roll out a functional, open Ad Archive API that enables advanced research and development of tools that analyse political ads served to Facebook users in the EU.
  • Ensure that all political advertisements are clearly distinguished from other content and are accompanied by key targeting criteria such as sponsor identity and amount spent on the platform in all EU countries.
  • Cease harassment of good faith researchers who are building tools to provide greater transparency into the advertising on your platform.

We believe that Facebook and other platforms can be positive forces that enable democracy, but this vision can only be realized through true transparency and trust. Transparency cannot just be on the terms with which the world’s largest, most powerful tech companies are most comfortable.

We look forward to the swift and complete implementation of these transparency measures that you have promised to your users.


Mozilla Foundation

Signed by:

Access Now
All Out
Alto Data Analytics
Bits of Freedom
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
Center for Democracy and Technology
Civil Liberties Union for Europe
Civil Rights Defenders
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Estonian Human Rights Center
Free Press Unlimited
GONG Croatia
Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD)
Mobilisation Lab
Open Data Institute
Open Knowledge International
Reporters Without Borders
Transparent Referendum Initiative
Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights

Image credit: In Green / Shutterstock

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