Investigating Facebook: a fractious relationship with academia

A growing number of researchers analysing the impact of the social network say their work is being stifled

December 6, 2021

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Last March, Orestis Papakyriakopoulos, a researcher at Princeton University, applied to use a special data access tool that allows academics to do research on Facebook. His goal was to investigate political campaigning on the social network.

The data set contained information on ads related to elections, how they were distributed, to whom and at what cost. But Papakyriakopoulos withdrew his application when he saw what he viewed to be draconian controls on access written into the contract, which he was required to sign...

Rebekah Tromble, a professor at George Washington University who studies thespread of misinformation online, says the company has used the GDPR, Europe’sprivacy laws, as an excuse to prevent access to data that researchers request.

Tromble was one of the original members of Social Science One, a non-profit initiativefounded by Harvard and Stanford professors in 2018 aiming to be a data brokerbetween Facebook and academics. The first data set on offer included “almost all”public links shared and clicked by Facebook users globally, around a petabyte of data.

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