When Alexa Koenig learned of Facebook’s abrupt decision to turn off a set of advanced search features last week, she thought of a Libyan military commander named Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli.
In August 2017, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Werfalli for allegedly participating in or ordering the execution of 33 people in Benghazi, Libya. At the core of the evidence against him are seven videos, some of which were found on Facebook, that allegedly show Werfalli committing crimes. His case marked the first time the ICC issued a warrant based largely on material gathered from social media.
Now that kind of work is being put in jeopardy, according to Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She said Facebook’s recent decision to turn off the features in its graph search product could be a “disaster” for human rights research.