Facebook dataset for academic research into effect of social media on democracy launched

The potential that social media has as a positive force for change in society is an area of major focus for me. In equal and opposite measure, the dangers that bad actors using social media pose I believe need understanding more fully, especially to the person in the street, and the message around these dangers needs communicating so that the potential for social media to interfere and negatively influence society can be effectively addressed.

So this morning, a piece of news caught my eye. One of the largest social science datasets ever constructed, one quintillion bytes of raw data, from Facebook, is being handed to researchers to look at the effects of social media on democracy and elections.

This has been announced by the team at Social Science One, who say: “it includes information on whether social media posts were fact-checked or flagged by users as hate speech… the types of people who viewed, shared, liked, reacted to, shared without viewing, and otherwise interacted” with Facebook posts.

Social Science One has expanded on just how big a job it was getting this data together. The job now is what can we discern from it:

“The difficult lessons we learned in the production of this dataset may be useful for other platforms, governments, and academics going forward with many types of data sharing projects. It turned out that Facebook’s legal, engineering, and data science infrastructures were not prepared for a data sharing initiative of the magnitude we jointly envisioned. It has taken dozens of employees countless hours, since then, to build all that is necessary for data sharing with independent academic researchers.”

Good to see this and thank you Gary King and Nathaniel Persily. Their post has all the detail and includes the codebook for the full dataset.