Facebook partners researchers to find its impact on US polls

The social networking giant has announced a new research partnership to better understand the impact of Facebook and Instagram on key political attitudes and behaviours during the US 2020 election.

The research initiative will examine the impact of how people interact with Facebook and its products, including content shared in News Feed and across Instagram, and the role of features like content ranking systems.

The partnership is between Facebook researchers and independent external academics.

Externally, the project is led by Professors Talia Stroud and Joshua A Tucker, two independent academics who serve as chairs of ‘Social Science One’ committees.

Professors Tucker and Stroud have selected 15 additional researchers to collaborate on this effort, based on their expertise.

“The US elections in 2016 exposed the risk of social media being abused to interfere in elections, and misinformation and political polarisation clearly play out on social media platforms too,” Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook, said in a blog post on Monday.

“To continue to amplify all that is good for democracy on social media, and mitigate against that which is not, we need more objective, dispassionate, empirically grounded research”.

The external researchers won’t be paid by Facebook and they won’t answer to Facebook either.

“Neither the questions they’ve asked nor the conclusions they draw will be restricted by Facebook,” Clegg said.

The researchers have committed to publish their findings in academic journals in open access format.

Facebook expects initial papers to be available in mid-2021 at the earliest.

Facebook and the researchers will also document study plans and hypotheses in advance through a pre-registration process and release those initial commitments upon publication of the studies.

“We are asking for the explicit, informed consent from those who opt to be part of research that analyses individual level data,” said Chaya Nayak, Head of Facebook’s Open Research and Transparency Team.

“We will also analyse aggregated user data on Facebook and Instagram to help us understand patterns,” Nayak added.

Facebook said that now, three times as many people are working on safety and security issues, more than 35,000 in total.

Facebook this month launched a new Voter Information Center as part of the biggest ever voter information campaign in the US, with the goal of registering four million voters.