By Bits of Freedom

On 21 August 2018 it was revealed that Facebook rates the trustworthiness of its users in its attempt to tackle misinformation. But how does Facebook judge you, what are the consequences and… how do you score? Ask Facebook by exercising your access right!

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Your reputation is 0 or 1

In an interview with the Washington Post, the product manager who is in charge of fighting misinformation at Facebook, said that one of the factors the company uses to determine if you’re spreading “fake news”, is a so-called “trustworthiness score”. (Users are assigned a score of 0 or 1.) In addition to this score, Facebook apparently also uses many other indicators to judge its users. For example, it takes into account if you abuse the option to flag messages.

Lots of questions

The likelihood of you spreading misinformation (whatever that means) appears to be decided by an algorithm. But how does Facebook determine a user’s score? For which purposes will this score be used and what if the score is incorrect?

Facebook has objected to the description of this system as reputation rating. To the BBC a spokesperson responded: “The idea that we have a centralised ‘reputation’ score for people that use Facebook is just plain wrong and the headline in the Washington Post is misleading.”

It’s unclear exactly how the headline is misleading, because if you’d turn it into a question “Is Facebook rating the trustworthiness of its users?” the answer would be yes. In any event, the above questions remain unanswered. That is unacceptable, because Facebook is not just any old actor. Together with a handful of other tech giants, the company plays an important role in how we communicate and which information we send and receive. The decisions Facebook makes about you have impact. Therefore, assigning you a trustworthiness score comes with great responsibility.

Facebook has to share your score with you

At the very least, such a system should be fair and transparent. If mistakes are made, there should be an easy way for users to have those mistakes rectified. According to Facebook, however, this basic level of courtesy is not possible, because it could lead to people gaming the system.

However, with the new European privacy rules (GDPR) in force, Facebook cannot use this reason as an excuse for dodging these important questions and keeping its trustworthiness assessment opaque. As a Facebook user living in the EU, you have the right to access the personal data Facebook has about you. If these data are incorrect you have the right to rectify them.

Assuming that your trustworthiness score is the result of an algorithm crunching the data Facebook collects about you, and taking into account that this score can have a significant impact, you also have the right to receive meaningful information about the underlying logic of your score and you should be able to contest your score.

Send an access request

Do you live in the European Union and do you want to exercise your right to obtain your trustworthiness score? Send an access request to Facebook! You can send your request by post, email or by using Facebook’s online form. To help you with exercising your access right, Bits of Freedom created a request letter for you. You can find it here.

Read more:

Example of request letter to send by regular mail (.odt file download link)
https://www.bof.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/facebook-access-request-trustworthiness-assessment-physical-mail.odt

Example text to use for email / online form (.odt file download link)
https://www.bof.nl/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/facebook-access-request-trustworthiness-assessment-form-or-email.odt

Don’t make your community Facebook-dependent! (21.02.2018)
https://edri.org/dont-make-your-community-facebook-dependent/

Press Release: “Fake news” strategy needs to be based on real evidence, not assumption (26.04.2018)
https://edri.org/press-release-fake-news-strategy-needs-based-real-evidence-not-assumption/

(Contribution by David Korteweg, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, the Netherlands)

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