Meta accused of trying to discredit researchers

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Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has been accused of discrediting university researchers in Brazil who reported fraudulent ads on its platform. The allegations surfaced after Núcleo, a Brazil-based news organization, obtained government documents revealing Meta’s legal tactics.

Researchers from NetLab, part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), conducted research that contributed to Brazil’s National Consumer Secretariat (Senacon) fining Meta $1.7 million in 2023. NetLab’s research found that Facebook had failed to remove over 1,800 scam ads using the name of a government program meant to assist those in debt. In response, Meta’s attorneys allegedly questioned the credibility and bias of the NetLab team, accusing them of excluding Meta from the research process.

This incident is part of a larger trend of pushback against social media research. In the US, similar resistance has been seen, such as the scaling back of the Stanford Internet Observatory under political pressure. Over 70 civil society groups, including NetLab, published an open letter condemning Meta’s tactics as an attack on scientific research.

Meta’s spokesperson stated that the company values input from civil society organizations and academic institutions. However, Meta’s defense questioned the use of the NetLab report as legal evidence, citing the lack of opportunity for Meta to contribute to the research.

 

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