Facebook promised to provide academics data to study disinformation, but their foot-dragging has endangered the whole project

Social Science One is an academic consortium that was created to conduct "independent scientific research into potentially consequential phenomena such as online disinformation, polarization, and echo chambers" after the Big Tech platforms made changes to their policies that made this kind of research effectively impossible without cooperation from the platforms themselves.

Facebook was the most enthusiastic partner of the consortium, but 18 months later, it has failed to live up to its promises to provide access and now the leaders of the consortium have published an open letter shaming Facebook for its failures, saying that the entire project is now in jeopardy as its funders have begun to withdraw due to a lack of progress.

The open letter also calls on the other big platforms to open their data, or, when that's not possible, to "offer formal, written analyses of any legal barriers they claim prevent them from providing access for academic research, including with regards to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation."

We recognize the responsibility of researchers to ethically receive and analyze any data. All appropriate steps should be taken to preserve platform users’ privacy and other digital rights. With this in mind, we call for support from both the platforms and public officials to create so-called research safe harbors, i.e., spaces within which scholars would directly access and analyze sensitive personally identifiable data. Modeled on certain research using public administration, health and medical data, such safe harbors would place clear and robust limits on the type and amount of data researchers could access, as well as the means of analysis researchers could undertake.

Public authorities should assist in developing independent verification of platform data. Because researchers are beholden to the platforms for virtually all data, their work risks appearing compromised or otherwise suspect to the public. Even if the researchers and their analyses are considered credible, all findings rest on trust that the platforms have provided complete, accurate data. Data verification by independent, third-party auditors is essential to generating confidence in research into digital platforms’ impacts across Europe.

Public statement from the Co-Chairs and European Advisory Committee of Social Science One [Claes de Vreese, Marco Bastos, Frank Esser, Fabio Giglietto, Sophie Lecleher, Barbara Pfetsch, Cornelius Puschmann, Rebekah Tromble, Gary King and Nathaniel Persily/Social Science One]

(via Four Short Links)