Last April, Facebook announced its intention to research social media’s influence on elections. Now the company has revealed how it will do so. In conjunction with Harvard’s Social Science One, the new project will give researchers and academics access to a lot of data. The first study, Facebook URL Shares, estimates that it will have to sort through 2 million unique URLs shared in 300 million posts per week.
The idea is to bring together scientists and Facebook’s massive amount of data in “socially beneficial” ways to study how that information affects the democratic process. The system is designed to ensure the privacy of the user data involved as well as the integrity of Facebook data — only academics that pass a rigorous peer review process will get access. The data itself is also anonymized. Better yet, research is funded by charitable foundations, rather than Facebook. Eventually, Social Science One will study other issues using the Facebook data as well as that of other companies.