Facebook Launches New Initiative to Help Scholars Assess Social Media’s Impact on Elections 

By Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy, and David Ginsberg, Director of Research

Facebook announced a new initiative to help provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally. It will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. At the heart of this initiative will be a group of scholars who will:

  • Define the research agenda;
  • Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
  • Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.

Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication. We’re excited about this initiative for two important reasons. First, we think it’s an important new model for partnerships between industry and academia. Second, the last two years have taught us that the same Facebook tools that help politicians connect with their constituents – and different communities debate the issues they care about – can also be misused to manipulate and deceive. We have made real progress since Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election in fighting fake news, as well as combating foreign interference, in elections in France, Germany, Alabama, and Italy. But there is much more to do – and we don’t have all the answers. This initiative will enable Facebook to learn from the advice and analysis of outside experts so we can make better decisions – and faster progress. In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook will invite respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society – starting with elections. The focus will be entirely forward-looking. And our goals are to understand Facebook’s impact on upcoming elections – like Brazil, India, Mexico and the US midterms – and to inform our future product and policy decisions. The initial term of the commission will be one year and membership will be determined in the coming weeks. We are keen to have a broad range of experts – with different political outlooks, expertise and life experiences, gender, ethnicity and from a broad range of countries. See full article here.

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