As part of a pioneering effort to systematically use privacy-protected Facebook data to study the platform’s impact on democracy, the Social Science Research Council and its partner Social Science One have named the inaugural recipients of the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants.
Grantees were selected from around the world based on their qualifications, research questions and methods, and commitment to accountability, transparency, and excellence. An international body of peer reviewers selected proposals submitted prior to November 9 — and without input from Facebook.
According to the council, “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.”
“The urgency of this research cannot be overstated,” wrote data scientists Gary King and Nathaniel Persily in a release from Social Science One. “Elections in India are already underway, the European Parliamentary elections will take place in short order, and the U.S. presidential primary campaigns have begun in earnest. Concerns about disinformation, polarization, political advertising, and the role of platforms in the information ecosystem have not diminished. If anything, they have heightened. We believe we can provide the fuel in the form of data access to the scholarly community to help solve some of the major issues in social media that affect elections and democracy across the world.”
In addition to providing research funding and creating pathways for public reporting, the Social Science Research Council —in collaboration with partners—will provide grantees support through research and training workshops and access to relevant scholarly communities that can advance more robust, nuanced, and interdisciplinary research. Grantees received immediate access to the Crowdtangle and Facebook Ad Library APIs (application programming interface), which allow researchers to look at both visitor-generated content and paid content.
A coalition of charitable foundations supports the initiative, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The inaugural grantees are:
Measuring the Effects of Peer Sharing on Fake and Polarized News Consumption | Principal Investigator Nicholas Beauchamp, assistant professor of political science, Northeastern University. Participants David Lazer, Northeastern University; Donghee Jo, Northeastern University; Kenneth Joseph, State University of New York at Buffalo; and Lu Wang,Northeastern University
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, National Chengchi University; Yu-Chung Cheng, National Chengchi University; and Shiuh-Feng Shih, 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, Sciences Po, and Guillaume Plique, Sciences Po
Understanding Problematic Sharing Behavior on Facebook | Principal Investigator R. Kelly Garrett, Associate Professor, Ohio State University. Participants Robert Bond, Ohio State University; Ceren Budak, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor; Jason Jones, Stony Brook University; and Drew Margolin, 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, Università di Sassari; Giada Marino, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo; Nicola Righetti, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo; Luca Rossi, IT University of Copenhagen; and Augusto Valeriani, 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, Technical University of Munich; Fabienne Marco, Technical University of Munich; Orestis Papakyriakopoulos, Technical University of Munich; Juan Carlos Medina Serrano, Technical University of Munich; and Morteza Shahrezaye, 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, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; Barbara Poblete, Universidad de Chile; Fernando Rosenblatt, Universidad Diego Portales; and Sergio Toro, Universidad de Concepción.
Characterizing Mainstream and Nonmainstream Online News Sources in Social Media | Principal Investigator Tanushree Mitra, assistant professor of computer science, Virginia Tech. Participants are Md Momen Bhuiyan, Virginia Tech, and Shruti Phadke, Virginia Tech
The Demographics of the Sharing of Hyperpartisan News in Brazil | Principal Investigator Pablo Ortellado, professor of public policy, University of São Paulo. Participant Márcio Moretto Ribeiro, 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, Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam; Denis Halagiera, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan; Jakub Jakubowski, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan; Juhi Kulshrestha, GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences; Judith Moeller, University of Amsterdam; Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research; Agnieszka Stępińska, Adam Mickiewicz University; Sebastian Stier, GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences; Cristian Vaccari, Loughborough University and University of Bologna; and Claes de Vreese, 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, New York University; Cody Buntain, New York University; Andrew Guess, Princeton University; Jonathan Nagler, New York University; and Megan Brown, New York University
False News on Facebook during the 2017 Chilean Elections: Analyzing Its Content, Diffusion, and Audience Characteristics | Principal Investigators 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, and Magdalena Saldaña, assistant professor in journalism, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Participants Benjamín Bustos, Universidad de Chile; Juan Pablo Luna, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; Jorge Pérez, Universidad de Chile; and Bárbara Poblete, Universidad de Chile