Facebook looks to academic commission to study data access culture
- Facebook will enter an agreement with an academic review committee to determine the alignment of the social media conglomerate's business practices with its data accessibility for research, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Social Science Research Council will examine data and determine how and when certain data should be released for scholastic exploration.
- The commission will be trained on company policy and its members would be prohibited from conducting their own research on Facebook-provided data. The commission would serve as the go-between for the company and other scholars seeking to do research on certain data, and would filter requests for data distribution approval.
- Some scholarly projects that have used Facebook data have drawn criticism because users were not aware of the ways in which their information was being used. The most recent and highest profile incident of this type is Cambridge Analytica's information harvesting project, which may have contributed to shaping the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook will have to take steps to rebuild its trust with users, and starting with an alliance of academics is a logical way to begin the process, as the academics can be unbiased resources for analysis and reporting. But the roadmap to access and disclosure will be complex, and the commission may have to be prepared to face its own controversies for aligning with Facebook and being limited in the amount of insight it can provide to the general public.
Much in the way that some institutions face scrutiny for their acceptance of certain research funding, particularly from political or corporate resources, this commission and its members could be judged for working with a company facing increasing criticism for its data-selling business model. This criticism could become fodder for student angst, reaction from state and federal legislators, and potential donors who would not be pleased with working to help Facebook improve a product that many find dangerous to democracy.
Participating campuses will have to prepare for the potential scrutiny of professors and administrators, and be sure to message about the higher purpose of the relationship. Making this objective clear, and repeating it in the face of criticism, will be key in helping an institution move beyond critique while creating opportunities for exposure of other research and development efforts.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education Facebook says it will help academics use its data. Here's how that's supposed to work.