Facebook launches project to study social media’s impact on elections

Facebook launches project to study social media’s impact on elections
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Facebook announced Monday that it will establish an independent research commission to study social media’s impact on elections and democracy. 

The announcement comes as the social media giant receives heightened scrutiny for its policies and practices following revelations about Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.


The project’s goal is “both to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address [election interference and misinformation] as well as to hold us accountable for making sure we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook,” CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergNY Times columnist David Brooks says think-tank role 'hasn't affected' his journalism New York Times expands its live news staff Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships MORE wrote in a post on Monday.

Facebook revealed last year that Russia-linked accounts purchased $100,000 in political advertisements on the platform before the election. Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE has indicted 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities in what his team describes as an elaborate plot to use social media to influence the election.

Facebook has since shut down hundreds of accounts linked to Moscow’s influence effort, though Zuckerberg acknowledged Monday that "it's clear we were too slow identifying election interference in 2016, and we need to do better in future elections." 

"This is a new model of collaboration between researchers and companies, and it's part of our commitment to protect the integrity of elections around the world," he wrote. 

The announcement also comes after Facebook revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm linked to President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE, improperly collected data on potentially 87 million users that was then used for the firm’s political targeting efforts. Cambridge Analytica has insisted that the data was not used in its work for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. 

The developments have triggered broad scrutiny of Facebook policies and privacy practices. Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before lawmakers on Capitol Hill at two separate House and Senate hearings this week.

The new initiative will receive funding from several groups, including the conservative Charles Koch Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The academic panel will decide on specific research topics and handpick independent researchers to study them. Facebook said it plans to ultimately use the research to inform future product and policy decisions. 

“We'll give those researchers access to our resources so they can draw unbiased conclusions about Facebook's role in elections, including how we're handling the risks on our platform and what steps we need to take before future elections,” Zuckerberg wrote. “They'll share their work publicly, and we won't require our approval to publish.”

Facebook executives wrote in a blog post that the company would work to protect user privacy while also giving researchers participating in the new initiative access to information needed to perform their work.