Group working with Facebook gives company deadline to share data for research

A group of funders working with Facebook on how the social media platform impacts elections has threatened to pull out of the project, claiming the company has not given the researchers access to the data they need.

The funders said in a statement on Tuesday that Facebook had been “unable to deliver all the data initially anticipated” and that some academics had only been granted access to “a portion of what they were told they could expect”. This has made it difficult or impossible for them to complete their work, the group said.

The news comes only months after Facebook opened up its trove of data to independent researchers for the first time, allowing them to look at how advertisers use the information and how content on the site spreads. The project aimed to better understand how Facebook had influenced elections and democracy.

However, on Tuesday the consortium funding the research said the “URL shares” data — web addresses shared on Facebook between January 2017 and February 2019 — that had been promised to them had not been made available.

It added that Facebook had failed to provide a “definitive timetable” for when the information would be made available.

The consortium recommended “winding down the project” if the data are not delivered by September 30. The Social Science Research Council, which chose the academics who were to be granted access to the information, said it would follow the consortium’s recommendations.

If the trove of URL shares is provided to the researchers by September 30, the Council said, the funders “may be willing to consider extending or reinitiating support to the programme.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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