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Facebook makes it easy for researchers to study fringe groups

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Facebook makes it easier for researchers to study its platform, including fringe groups and other “non-mainstream” movements, with a new The API, which will be available later this year, will make it easier for academics to study content shared across public groups and pages.

It comes more than three years after Facebook shut down a large part of its platform following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has made it more difficult for outsiders to study the social network, a trend the company says it now wants to reverse.

The new API will allow “qualified searchers” to study pages, groups, and advertising events in the United States, including the text of user-specific posts (Facebook says it will hide usernames and @-mentions to protect privacy of users.) Researchers will also gain access to tracking metrics and engagement statistics for groups, events, and pages.

“It was designed specifically for researchers,” said Chaya Nayak, head of Open Research and Transparency at Facebook. “In response to other search data offerings such as CrowdTangle, the Researcher’s API will include the U.S. public page, events, and group data on Facebook, regardless of the number of followers. This is important because it will allow for study fringe and non-mainstream movements as they evolve, rather than once becoming prominent on the platform. ”

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Facebook’s management of marginalized groups has been a major issue over the past year. The company has been widely criticized for QAnon once considered a fringe move, even after it moved into the mainstream. And after the election, Facebook did not recognize the dangers posed by the “, which helped fuel the January 6 violence.

Allowing researchers who specialize in misinformation or extremism to study smaller groups could help Facebook be better prepared for the next fragile dangerous group trying to organize itself on its platform. Although the API Researcher will only cover the United States to begin with, Nayak said the company plans to eventually expand to “other geographies.” She also said that in the future, Facebook would use search insight to consider “changes to our product.”

Facebook’s relationship with researchers who want to study the platform has been at times tense in recent years. Some academics have said that the company does to access the limited data it provides. And the social network has been widely criticized for trying to prevent New York University researchers from studying the company’s policy. last year.

In particular, it appears that the new Search API does not provide additional access to ads or destination information. Instead, it’s mostly geared toward posts that are already public. But, if the company makes the API widely available to researchers, it could also be incredibly useful to those studying misinformation, extremism or other issues affecting Facebook.

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