This week, Facebook finally followed through on its two-year-old promise to release user data to academic researchers in order to study the platform’s impact on society. The dataset will allow researchers to see millions of links that users have shared on Facebook, whether they were flagged as hate speech, and who viewed, shared or interacted with the content.
As part of its renewed efforts to improve transparency, Facebook first promised to release the data back in April 2018 in partnership with nonprofit Social Science One. However, as the timetable dragged on, many experts became skeptical that Facebook would ever actually do it. But the company’s partners were quick to point out that the delay was due to Facebook actually becoming more careful and dedicated when it comes to user privacy.
“In fact, most of the last twenty months has involved negotiating with Facebook over their increasingly conservative views of privacy and the law, trying to get different groups within the company on the same page, and watching Facebook build an information security and data privacy infrastructure adequate to share data with academics,” wrote Social Science One’s Gary King and Nathaniel Persily.
These experts also noted that researchers will not be able to see any individual through the datasets, and that small groups will also be obscured. So while this data transfer sounds creepy on its face, it could actually be used by responsible academics to protect users in the long run.
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