Aug 31, 2020 - Technology

Facebook to assess its impact on 2020 election

A Facebook logo is displayed on a smartphone.
Photo illustration: Manish Rajput/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook will enlist academics to study whether and how its platforms end up influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the company announced Monday.

Between the lines: Facebook is trying to show it's being mindful of its potential to amplify election-related misinformation. In 2016, CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously said it was a "pretty crazy idea" that Facebook had any influence over that election, which was quickly proven wrong.

Details: A group of 17 outside academics will work with Facebook on experiments in which users will see tweaked News Feeds and ad experiences.

  • Those participants will then be surveyed on their experiences and asked about their viewpoints. The idea will be to assess whether exposure to different experiences on Facebook and Instagram sways people's views.
  • Facebook plans on publishing results next year. It won't have any veto power over the results.

Context: Foreign-fueled misinformation, along with increasingly volatile political discourse, spread on Facebook before the 2016 presidential election, something Facebook has had to reckon with since, facing Congressional hearings and other scrutiny.

What they're saying: "We need to better understand whether social media... largely reflects the divisions that already exist; if it helps people to become better informed about politics, or less; or if it affects people’s attitudes towards government and democracy, including whether and how they vote," Nick Clegg, Facebook's VP of global affairs and communications and Chaya Nayak, head of Facebook’s open research and transparency team, wrote.

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