Ever since the 2016 US election, some of the most grave questions in tech have been about the effect of social media — especially Facebook. How much does fake news impact people’s opinions? Why are people so disposed to share atrocious stories?
Researchers have been looking at those questions for years, but actual experimental data were hard to come by. But this summer, select researchers would get access to some of the most perceptive social media data that one gets, directly from Facebook.
In an unparalleled move, Facebook has agreed to provide unspecified data about how stories are shared across its platform. The first 12 research groups would get access to Facebook’s sensitive user behaviour data were declared last week. Jointly, they’ll be studying crucial questions facing politics and technology.
Various projects would be looking directly at Facebook’s effect on elections. One group from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile would study the way Facebook usage stirred Chile’s 2017 congressional elections that brought the conservative “Chile Vamos” coalition to power. Another study headed by the University of Urbino in Italy would study how populist parties profit from the sharing of partisan news sources. In Taiwan, researchers would study how news stories on Facebook affect civic engagement.
Most of the studies are extensive than that, with an interest in when and why people share fake news and the types of people who do the sharing. It’s partly because of the data being made available: researchers would be able to study same information in the past by looking at things such as public tweets, but Facebook’s data is far richer.
A project headed by R. Kelly Garrett, an associate professor at Ohio State University, would look at whether there are certain patterns that lead to sharing fake and dubious news stories. Many research groups would be able to take advantage of the power to study sharing behaviours on Facebook before and after an algorithm change devised to advocate friends over media sources.