I have been invited to be on the new advisory committee by Facebook to help scholars independently assess Facebook’s impact on elections, misinformation, privacy and other contemporary and critical issues regarding its usage.
In April, Facebook announced it would be working with a group of academics to establish an independent research commission to look into issues of social and political significance using the company’s own extensive data collection. That commission, called Social Science One has just launched in early July. I will be on the Asian regional committee and partake in collaborations to assess the impact of Facebook in this region.
In the last two years, Facebook tools have not just helped politicians connect with their constituents — and different communities to debate the issues but as we have witnessed, it can be misused to manipulate and deceive.
To keep this independent, it will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
At the heart of this initiative will be a group of prominent and global scholars who will:
- Define the research agenda;
- Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
- Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.
Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication. In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook has invited respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections. I am excited to be part of the commission to closely examine Facebook activities and its implications on democracy to help in constructing future policy decisions on platform transparency and accountability.
The issues to be addressed range across diverse research areas, namely Political Advertising, Civic Engagement, Election Integrity, Polarization and Disinformation. The regional advisory committees include Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.
Along with a team of other academic experts, I will assist in surfacing research questions and variable requests for the datasets that will be shared as part of the project. Scholars serving on these committees can apply for grants and data access as part of these processes.
The advisory committee will provide critical advice on how the project might be best tailored to deal with concerns and issues specific to different regions. For example, as specific elections occur in the respective regions, country-specific datasets are developed for analysis. Moreover, certain academic surveys are region-specific and these committees may help facilitate the joining of Facebook data with such surveys. Finally, because different countries’ legal regulations, concerning privacy and research such as this, differ greatly, the advisory committee will assist the project in working with regulators to understand the limits and opportunities for the project in the respective regions.
Anyway, a new adventure awaits with this unique opportunity!