Making Facebook data available to researchers
Political scientist Rebekah Tromble (Leiden University) has been appointed as an academic advisor to the Social Science One research commission. She will assist the commission in its new partnership with Facebook, which aims to facilitate in-depth studies of the role of social media in elections and democracy.
Social media and democracy
Social Science One was created to build partnerships between academia and industry. ‘Private companies like Facebook are generating and collecting vast amounts of data relevant to elections and democracy, but most is completely inaccessible to academic researchers’, Tromble explains. ‘If we want to better understand the role and impact of social media platforms in democratic societies, it is imperative that independent researchers gain access to and study this information.’
Tromble has been appointed to the Social Science One European Advisory Group, one of several groups comprised of academic experts who will identify important research questions and advise Facebook about the types of data needed to answer those questions.
The commission will announce several open grant competitions, inviting academic researchers to apply for funding and access to privacy-protected data. Grant competitions will be overseen by the Social Science Research Council, a long-running nonprofit foundation in the US, with proposals reviewed by independent experts. Researchers who are awarded funding and data access will be free to publish their findings as they see fit, without Facebook’s pre-approval.
The first Request for Proposals was announced on 11 July 2018. Researchers interested in studying the use and spread of information and misinformation on Facebook may apply for access to a data set that includes almost all public URLs shared by Facebook users globally since 1 January 2017.
‘I have been studying the impacts of social media in democratic societies for some time now,’ Tromble says. ‘Many of these impacts are truly positive, but—as we have seen over the last few years—many are quite negative. If we want to diminish harms and support healthy democratic processes, academics and technology companies will have to work together. I am hopeful that this partnership between Social Science One and Facebook represents a positive first step and am honoured to be part of the initiative.’
Funding for this Social Science One project will be provided by a range of politically diverse US-based foundations: the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.