Facebook to fund study on social media’s role in democracy

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FILE- In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Newly released court documents reveal that Facebook allowed children playing digital games on its social network to ring up huge bills on their parents’ credit cards while rejecting recommendations on how it could address a problem that the company dubbed “friendly fraud.” The internal Facebook memos and other records were unsealed late Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, to comply with a judge’s order issued in a federal court case settled in 2016. The lawsuit centered on allegations that Facebook knowingly gouged teenage children by permitting them to spend hundreds of dollars buying additional features on games such as “Angry Birds” and “Barn Buddy.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Facebook has announced its first grants for independent research on social media’s impact on democracy that will investigate, among other things, the role of technology platforms in spread of misinformation.

Social media platforms have come under intense scrutiny around the world ever since allegations surfaced of Russian-linked accounts trying to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

For the study, more than 60 researchers were chosen from 30 academic institutions across 11 countries through a competitive peer review process by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the independent group Social Science One.

These researchers will gain access to privacy-protected Facebook data.

“We hope this initiative will deepen public understanding of the role social media has on elections and democracy and help Facebook and other companies improve their products and practices,” Elliot Schrage, Vice President for Special Projects at Facebook and the company’s Strategic Initiatives Manager Chaya Nayak wrote in a blog post on Monday.

Facebook said it did not play any role in the selection of the individuals or their projects and will have no role in directing the findings or conclusions of the research.

These grantees will seek to use access to Facebook data to better explain how political news is shared in European multiparty political systems and to understand how social events or technology platform changes influence communication behaviour such as spreading disinformation, among other issues, SSRC said.

The projects also seek to provide a richer understanding of the relationship between social media platforms like Facebook and traditional news media, it added.