With the U.S. midterm elections just seven months away, and as Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify on Capitol Hill about Facebook’s never-ending series of controversies, the company says it has agreed to open its kimono and let a number of independent academics examine its role (and that of social media in general) in elections.
The aim of the commission is to “help provide independent, credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.
The scholars on the commission will set their own research agenda, asking for proposals on independent research on related topics, and they will seek funded scholars who will do the research. Those people will be able to analyze privacy-protected Facebook datasets.
Clearly, Facebook wants regulators, investors, and the public to be confident it is taking proactive steps to prevent foreign entities from using its platforms to meddle in future elections.
From the post:
“Specific topics may include misinformation; polarizing content; promoting freedom of expression and association; protecting domestic elections from foreign interference; and civic engagement.”
Most important: Given the recent plunge in public trust in the company, Facebook says it will have no rights to review or approach the research before it’s published.
The project is being funded by the John and Laura 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.