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Facebook opens data trove for academics to study its influence on elections

Researchers will get to parse Facebook ad data, the popularity of news items and URL data sets.


Researchers are getting a peek behind Facebook's curtain.

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How does Facebook affect elections? Sixty academics are getting the chance to find out. 

The social media giant is opening up its privacy-protected data to researchers from 30 academic institutions across 11 countries, according to a Facebook post on Monday. The data spans from January 2017 to February 2019. The researchers were chosen by Facebook's partners at Social Science One and the Social Science Research Council.

The selected researchers will gain access to data from a CrowdTangle API. That API will let them track: public Facebook and Instagram posts; Facebook's Ad Library API, which provides data on ads related to politics or issues; and Facebook's URLs Data Set, which provides data on URLs that have been shared on the social network. 

Facebook said it hopes to deepen the public's understanding of social media's role in democracy and elections while helping other companies improve their products.

"To assure the independence of the research and the researchers, Facebook 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," Facebook said in the post. 

Last April Facebook launched a similar initiative to help scholars research social media's impact on elections.

The latest initiative comes as Facebook, beset by scandal, is using its ongoing F8 conference to help chart a new course. CEO Mark Zuckerberg will hold his opening keynote Tuesday where he's expected to discuss new ideas around its messaging services, photo sharing, artificial intelligence and more. 

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