Columbia Journalism Review

Smaller outlets reduce, scrap Facebook promotion over new political ad rules

When Facebook announced in April that it would create a public database of political advertising, it seemed like a meaningful step—something that might make it harder for Russian trolls and other bad actors to try to manipulate public opinion using the company’s self-serve ad platform. But it soon became obvious the move would cause problems for media companies: In a follow-up post, Facebook said that any news stories on political topics that were promoted or “boosted” to extend their reach in the News Feed would also be labeled as political ads and put in the database.

Silicon Valley won’t promise to protect journalists. Lawmakers, you’re up.

Will I go to prison for violating the terms of service? This is the question journalists must ask themselves, now, when writing data stories based on public information collected from a website, such as Facebook or Twitter. Violating a terms of service that prohibits scraping can carry with it possible criminal liability under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). No journalists have been prosecuted under this statute, but their sources have, and some journalists have been asked to stop using specific reporting tools by Facebook.