Facebook has announced its first research grants to study the impact of social media on elections, as part of an effort to prevent manipulation of social media platforms. The company said that over 60 researchers have been chosen from 30 academic institutions across 11 countries through a peer-review process by the Social Science Research Council and the independent group Social Science One. Facebook began soliciting proposals for the research initiative last year when it came under intense scrutiny around the world after “the revelations of foreign influence campaigns on the US election and the Brexit vote in Britain”.
The researchers will be granted access to private data from Facebook and Instagram; Facebook’s internal data will be shared in a with researchers, with restrictions on how much and what type of data is accessible and limits on the number of queries each researcher can make. The research will attempt to understand the interplay of Facebook with traditional news media to know how misinformation or fake news on social events or technology platforms influence voting behaviour.
Social Science One said in its statement that “the urgency of this research cannot be overstated”. It further said that “Elections in India are already underway, the European Parliamentary elections will take place in short order, and the US presidential primary campaigns have begun in earnest. Concerns about disinformation, polarization, political advertising, and the role of platforms in the information ecosystem have not diminished. If anything, they have heightened.”
The research groups are located worldwide and vary in terms of the project theme, with the alignment to the wider goal of Facebook’s initiative. One study by the National Chengchi University in Taiwan will look at how to link sharing influences Taiwanese elections. Another project from Sciences Po in France entitled “I Read It on Facebook”: How Do Conversations on Social Media Escape the Agenda-Setting of News Media?” will analyze audiences for every French news outlet during recent elections. One from Ohio State University seeks to understand problematic sharing behaviour on Facebook.