Researchers are awarded grants to study Facebook data and its influence on elections

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Last year saw the launch of Social Science One—a model devised to allow academic researchers access to the huge amounts of data generated by private industry, including Facebook data which will constitute the inaugural project. This week the first grants have been announced in partnership with the Social Science Research Council. Twelve projects have been awarded grants, as over 60 researchers come together from 11 countries and 30 academic institutions to study social media’s impact upon our society and democratic systems.

Partnerships between academic institutions, researchers and private industry are nothing new, but these collaborations have been much more prevalent within life sciences and engineering compared to social science. The rise of large scale big data has transformed the social sciences in the past decade as our society has gone from data poor to data intensive, prompting the ‘emergence of data-driven computational social science’.

Furthermore, the economic and social changes brought on by what Shoshana Zuboff has labeled ‘surveillance capitalism’ are now clear for all to see. The normalization of our participation in data collection has become so entrenched in our society that we are only now waking up to the monumental shift in our information environment. Moreover, social media’s impact upon elections in Europe and America has been widely documented, as has the encroachment of social media on traditional news media as politicians look to bypass established forms of communication—the tweeter-in-chief being the prime example. With this in mind, the need to tap into knowledge from the social sciences is now more important than ever.

Considering social science’s mission to better inform our understanding of the world, the announcement last year of the formation of Social Science One could not have come at a better time. In April 2018, Gary King and Nathaniel Persily outlined a model for a new industry-academic partnership. This week has seen the first fruits of their labor with the announcement of the first wave of Social Media and Democracy Research Grants for studying privacy-protected Facebook data and analyzing the impact the platform has had on democracy since launching in 2004.

Today’s announcement marks a significant step toward creating the kinds of international social science research pathways necessary for sustained investigations into the effects of social media on all of our lives
— Alondra Nelson and Jason Rhody

A huge amount of work has gone into this partnership from all benefactors, including the building of a new peer pre-review system to speed up publication timelines. It is important to note that Facebook have not been involved in the selection of the grantees and will not have any role in the conclusions drawn by the projects. Unlike past research processes, the Facebook data made available as part of this project will not require pre-publication approval.

Announcing the grants on 29th April, Alondra Nelson and Jason Rhody said:

These grantees will seek to use access to Facebook data to better explain how political news is shared in European multiparty political systems; to understand how social events or technology platform changes influence communication behaviors such as spreading disinformation; and to deepen our knowledge of how social media platforms were used in elections in Italy, Chile, and Germany and how their use may influence public opinion in Taiwan. The projects also seek to provide a richer understanding of the relationship between social media platforms like Facebook and traditional news media, and how we as a society can better distinguish legitimate news sources from unverified ones.
Source: https://items.ssrc.org/social-media-and-democracy-research-grants-grantees/

It will be fascinating to see what findings emerge from the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants program. The opportunities available to social scientists through initiatives like this and others—LinkedIn’s Economic Graph Research—are vast, and the influence social science can have on informing society is stronger than ever but, there is still more to do and it will be interesting to see how this partnership and collaboration develops as new data becomes available. It’s now imperative that the impact of research such as this is communicated successfully to the public it serves.

The projects selected in this first round of applications can be seen here and are listed below:


Measuring the effects of peer sharing on fake and polarized news consumption

Principal Investigator

Nicolas Beauchamp, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University

Participants

David Lazer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University.

Donghee Jo, Assistant Professor of Economics, Northeastern University.

Kenneth Joseph, Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, State University of New York at Buffalo.

How Hyperlink Sharing on Facebook Influences Civic Engagement and Elections in Taiwan

Principal Investigator
Pai-lin Chen, Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Journalism, National Chengchi University

Participants

Kung Chen, Professor and Director of Computer Center, National Chengchi University

Yu-Chung Cheng, Associate Professor, National Chengchi University

Shiuh-Feng Shih, Data Scientist, National Chengchi University

“I Read It on Facebook”: How Do Conversations on Social Media Escape the Agenda-Setting of News Media?

Principal Investigator

Jean-Philippe Cointet, Associate Professor, médialab, Sciences Po

Participants
Dominique Cardon, Associate Professor, médialab, Sciences Po

Guillaume Plique, Research Engineer, médialab, Sciences Po

Understanding Problematic Sharing Behavior on Facebook

Principal Investigator

R. Kelly Garrett, Associate Professor, Ohio State University

Participants

Robert Bond, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University

Ceren Budak, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

Jason Jones, Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University

Drew Margolin, Assistant Professor, Cornell University

Patterns of Facebook Interactions around Insular and Cross-Partisan Media Sources in the Run-up of the 2018 Italian Election

Principal Investigator

Fabio Giglietto, Associate Professor, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo

Participants

Laura Iannelli, Assistant Professor, Università di Sassari

Giada Marino, PhD Candidate, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo

Nicola Righetti, Postdoctoral Researcher, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo

Luca Rossi, Associate Professor, IT University of Copenhagen

Augusto Valeriani, Associate Professor, Università di Bologna

Mapping Disinformation Campaigns across Platforms: The German General Election

Principal Investigator

Simon Hegelich, Professor of Political Data Science, Technical University of Munich

Participants

Joana Bayraktar, Student Assistant, Technical University of Munich

Fabienne Marco, Research Assistant, Technical University of Munich

Orestis Papakyriakopoulos, Research Assistant, Technical University of Munich

Juan Carlos Medina Serrano, Research Assistant, Technical University of Munich

Morteza Shahrezaye, Research Assistant, Technical University of Munich

The Role of Facebook in Legislative Campaigns in Chile (2017)

Principal Investigator

Juan Pablo Luna, Professor of Political Science, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Participants

Cristian Pérez-Muñoz, Associate Professor of Political Science, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Barbara Poblete, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Universidad de Chile

Fernando Rosenblatt, Associate Professor of Political Science, Universidad Diego Portales

Sergio Toro, Associate Professor of Political Science, Universidad de Concepción

Sebastián Valenzuela, Associate Professor at the School of Communication & Associate Researcher of the Millennium Institute for Foundational Research on Data, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Characterizing Mainstream and Nonmainstream Online News Sources in Social Media

Principal Investigator

Tanushree Mitra, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Virginia Tech

Participants

Md Momen Bhuiyan, PhD Student, Virginia Tech

Shruti Phadke, PhD Student, Virginia Tech

The Demographics of the Sharing of Hyperpartisan News in Brazil

Principal Investigator

Pablo Ortellado, Professor of Public Policy, University of São Paulo

Participants

Márcio Moretto Ribeiro, Professor of Information Science, University of São Paulo

SHARENEWS: Predicting the Shareworthiness of ‘Real’ and ‘Fake’ News in Europe

Principal Investigator

Damian Trilling, Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam

Participants

Wouter van Atteveldt, Associate Professor, Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam

Denis Halagiera, PhD Candidate, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan

Jakub Jakubowski, Assistant Professor, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan

Juhi Kulshrestha, Postdoctoral Researcher, GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Judith Moeller, Assistant Professor of Political Communication, University of Amsterdam

Cornelius Puschmann, Senior Researcher, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research

Agnieszka Stępińska, Professor, Adam Mickiewicz University

Sebastian Stier, Senior Researcher, GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Cristian Vaccari, Reader in Political Communication, Loughborough University and University of Bologna

Claes de Vreese, Full Professor, University of Amsterdam

Studying Polarization, Misinformation, and Manipulation across Multiple Platforms and the Larger Information Ecosystem

Principal Investigator

Joshua Tucker, Professor of Politics, Affiliated Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, and Affiliated Professor of Data Science, New York University

Participants

Richard Bonneau, Professor of Biology and Computer Science, New York University

Cody Buntain, Postdoctoral Researcher, SMaPP Lab, New York University

Andrew Guess, Assistant Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

Jonathan Nagler, Professor of Politics, New York University (Codirector of Lab)

Megan Brown, Research Engineer, New York University

False News on Facebook during the 2017 Chilean Elections: Analyzing Its Content, Diffusion, and Audience Characteristics

Principal Investigator

Sebastián Valenzuela, Associate Professor at the School of Communication & Associate Researcher of the Millennium Institute for Foundational Research on Data, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Participants

Magdalena Saldaña, Assistant Professor in Journalism, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Benjamín Bustos, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Universidad de Chile

Juan Pablo Luna, Professor of Political Science, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Jorge Pérez, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Universidad de Chile

Bárbara Poblete, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Universidad de Chile