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.

My TED Talk: how do we reboot social media?

Every hour of every day, one million social media profiles, deemed so harmful that we should not be influenced by them, are deleted altogether off the face of the internet. This is a sheer tidal wave of what the world’s governments call ‘online harms’, and it is only just beginning. 

In my TED Talk, which I delivered at TEDxBristol, and which has gone live today, I take a look at what’s really happening on social media that we need to know about, from the harms that spread online to the responsibility we all have to better understand what’s real and what’s fake.

I look at political interference from trolls, the impact of Fake News, how to kill a bot, and I explore what I learnt back in July 2006 when I first wrote the page on social media on Wikipedia (yep, that was me!). 

I believe that through awareness, education, and a more mindful approach to what we do online, the power is in our hands to make social media a force for good in society today. Because while we wait for regulation, fines and legislation to catch up, the future is in our hands. 

So this is my TED Talk, do please share, comment and like. I hope you enjoy it. 

Can Instagram lead the way in 'depressurizing' social media

The head of Instagram, Adam Mossieri, has been working on the next phase of Instagram’s journey, going beyond its current incarnation where numbers of followers and likes determine one’s influencer status. Last year, Instagram rolled out a trial of hiding the Like count for certain Instagram profiles, and users whose accounts this took effect on reported a sense of relief at not having to hit a certain number of likes on their posts any longer.

In a new deep dive into Mossieri’s plans in The New York Times, reporter Amy Chozick talks of how the Instagram boss “is thinking about the larger, potentially corrosive impact of social media” while he considers what to change about the social network, with Like counts his being next move. Chosick has had a number of interviews with Mossieri now, and has reviewed his plans for Instagram.

“Likes are the social media currency undergirding an entire influencer economy, inspiring a million Kardashian wannabes and giving many of us regular people daily endorphin hits. But lately, Mr. Mosseri has been concerned about the unanticipated consequences of Instagram as approval arbiter,” says Chosick in her analysis of the situation.

I think that what is key here is perfecting a delicate balancing act for Instagram. On the one hand, a social network needs people to create – it needs content. Something Twitter and Facebook have been struggling with of late, but which Instagram especially with its big focus on Stories has not needed to worry about. Like counts, follower counts and views are key to keeping us engaged.

On the other hand, a responsible social network today has a duty to the world, to society as a whole. Be that through bringing in tighter controls, or changing how the social network’s fundamentals, like the Like count, work. Facebook’s problems with fake content, Twitter’s issues with trolling, and Instagram’s issues around self harm are well-documented. Taking a strong stance on an issue like mental health is a big dichotomy for social networks, so nailing this balancing act is key.

The key phrase that came from Mossieri in his time with Chosick at the New York Times, for me, was this question which he posed to his colleagues at Instagram: “How do we depressurize the app?”

I would love to see Instagram lead the way in depressurizing social media. And balance is going to be key.

Chinese social network of the moment TikTok, for example, not only has public Like counts, but it adds them all from your profile and displays the grand total on a user’s profile page, along with public post view counts, so it has gone completely in the opposite direction to Instagram. While observing TikTok’s rapid growth, Instagram will surely be considering its choices carefully.

The future of social media

Hi, I’m Drew, I am founder of Battenhall, and this is where you can follow my work and connect. I’m a consultant in applied social media and digital technologies in the fields of marketing, public relations and reputation management. 

I am a commentator in the media, on TV, radio and in print, on social media’s influence on society. I also lecture on this topic, publish research through Battenhall, and am a public speaker at TEDx, SMW and others.

Contact me email or via my office.

Work & profile

Since launching Battenhall in 2013, I have built it up to be the UK’s top rated social media agency, best digital PR agency in the UK, best specialist agency in the UKbest large social media agency, best PR agency, and PRCA agency of the future, amongst others.

I wrote the Wikipedia page on Social Media in 2006, and have been an early adopter and media commentator on digital technologies since the 1990s. New Media Age named me the UK’s most respected digital consultant in its 2011 Reputation Online report, I have been named one of the top 25 innovators in EMEA by the Holmes Report in 2017, and am a current member of the PR Week Powerbook. 

Projects & research

I am based in London and spend my time building the Battenhall business and working with clients globally. I am involved in a range of social media research projects which look at how social media technologies are shaping society, and trends shaping the future of communications. These research projects can be found here and include regular publications reviewing social media trends, the Battenhall Monthly, the daily Battenhall WhatsApp, the FTSE 100 Social Media Report and The Instagram Brands 100.

My current side projects include researching the impact and potential of AI in smart speakers and voice assistants on consumer communications, and in private social media such as messaging apps, groups and Stories. An update on these can be found on the Battenhall blog and my Twitter

To get in touch, here are the places I spend most of my time

// My profiles in The FT, Channel 4, The BBCForbes and The Holmes Report // the NMA rankingsPR Power Book and PR Week // articles in the press // video interviewspodcasts & photos //