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Facebook is opening up its data trove to researchers

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Facebook is giving access to the massive amounts of data it harvests from its users to 30 academic organizations from 11 countries – to help them track the influence of social media on elections.

And the purpose of the study will be – “to prevent future manipulation of social platforms.”

There will be a total of 60 researchers, and the question becomes: how have they been picked? Well, not by Facebook, but instead, the website writes, by the Social Science Research Council – an independent US non-profit with revenues of over $20 million in 2017 – and Social Science One – which states to be involved in bringing about “a new type of partnership between academic researchers and private industry.”

According to its representatives, Facebook will also not interfere with the results or their direction.

The project is one among many the tech giant has been trying to promote to take some of the heat off in the wake of US elections and the Brexit vote in the UK – which both went surprisingly anti-establishment’s way. These results have then been rationalized as meaning that “foreign interference” must have played a decisive role – apparently by means of using the power and reach of Facebook and other social media platforms to perform the decisive influencing of American and British voters. That’s the narrative – and Facebook, under fire from everywhere, is in no mood to contest it.

Instead, it is coming up with initiatives like this to learn more about how user data can be manipulated in elections – with the goal of better preventing such activity going further.

And time is of the essence here, as Gary King and Nathaniel Persily of Social Science One noted: what with elections in India that have already started, and the eagerly anticipated European Parliament (EP) elections next month, not to mention the US primaries for the 2020 presidential election.

Researchers will look into the websites Facebook users linked to, and also gain access to Crowdtangle data – a tool that publishers use to monitor content posting on Facebook.

In addition, the process will protect user’s privacy, Facebook executives have assured them.

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