Academic lost research contacts as Facebook deleted page

Geographer Maddy Thompson warns scholars against relying on social network, as Facebook deletes then reinstates account

November 4, 2019
Source: Getty

A geographer has warned of the dangers of relying on Facebook for research purposes, after the social media giant blocked access to the thousands of contacts by deleting her academic page.

Maddy Thompson, a teaching fellow in development geography at Newcastle University, has still not had any response from Facebook, but her page was reinstated not long after Times Higher Education contacted the social media giant for comment. It comes after spending hours trying to find out what happened and “caused a lot of stress”, she said.

She woke up on 30 October to an email from Facebook asking if she had logged in to her account in the middle of the night and changed her password.

But when Dr Thompson clicked on the link to confirm that it wasn’t her, she found that her account had already been disabled. She said that this meant that her personal profile, and a public page that she used for research purposes, had been deleted. Dr Thompson’s work focuses on the Philippines and she had built up a base of contacts there, staying in touch with them via Facebook and recruiting participants to studies via the social network.

The site told Dr Thompson that the account was disabled due to a post that violated its rules, despite Facebook itself flagging that the log-in had been suspicious.

“They know the post was made from London early in the morning. I was in Newcastle and I have sent them numerous pieces of evidence to back that up,” she told Times Higher Education.

Speaking before her account was reinstated, Dr Thompson said that she was “devastated” that she had now lost the thousands of contacts she had spent years and years building.

“I focus on healthcare migration from the Philippines,” she said. “The Philippines has one of the highest percentages of people logged on to Facebook in the world and it really is a very big thing there. They use it rather than text.”

She began building her contacts when she went out in 2015 for her PhD research. “It’s how I recruited half my participants. I’d also set up a separate research page linked to my profile,” she said. Dr Thompson also used it to share information about her research, ahead of a planned research trip to the Philippines in 2021, supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

“This would be my first point of call to get people back [involved in research] because I haven’t been there for a few years,” she said. “It was written into my Leverhulme bid.”

Dr Thompson said that she had even written a book chapter, recently accepted, outlining how useful Facebook had been to her research and encouraging others to make use of it. “This will now come with a huge disclaimer advising academics to never rely on Facebook,” she said. “Don’t assume your work will stay there, and don’t expect help from Facebook.”

Dr Thompson added that she had been contacted by another person who had faced a similar problem, and that a quick search on Twitter revealed they were not alone.

Dr Thompson explained that not long after THE spoke to Facebook she clicked on the app and it “changed from saying it was disabled to it was locked”. She was then able to use the verification process to gain access. While she was pleased her access has been reinstated, she said the other individuals she had been in contact with had not so been so lucky.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The moral is of course to always back up any data... but a good hunt around in the Wayback Machine (http://www.archive.org/) might find at least some of the missing information.

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