Researchers expected it a year and a half ago, but Facebook is finally giving researchers access to a lot of data. The data is about how users have shared information, including misinformation, about political events around the world.
The data released last month relates to URLs (38 million) that users shared publicly on Facebook between January 2017 and July 2019. Did they consider a linked site to be fake news or hate speech? Which links did they click or like or share?
Social scientists will also be able to connect that with some demographic information like age, gender, and location and political affinities. There are also concerns that there are distortions, or noise, that have been injected into the data. Why? Thankfully, because of differential privacy by data managers who have tried to ensure privacy.
This seems to echo the last U.S. Presidential election in 2016 when Facebook was hit with evidence that it had given political operatives unauthorized use of its data. In April 2018, they announced that they would turn over full access to information about its users with no strings attached - but to researchers.
It's the right thing to do but a tough thing for a company to do - turning over proprietary information. Previously, that data was only available for research that was either conducted in-house or required preapproval from Facebook.
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