Jan 25, 2021 - Technology

Facebook says it will give researchers access to political ad data

Facebook on Monday said it’s giving outside researchers more information about how and why political ads get shown to certain users.

Why it matters: Researchers have long complained that Facebook has been slow to grant experts access to information about ways its platform is used.

Details: The tech giant says it will be providing new data to researchers on Feb. 1 about political, social and election ads that ran on its platform from Aug. 3 to Nov. 3 of 2020.

  • It will be making the targeting criteria — "such as location and interests, selected by advertisers running social issue, electoral or political ads" — available for analysis and reporting.
  • "We recognize that understanding the online political advertising landscape is key to protecting elections, and we know we can’t do it alone," wrote Sarah Clark Schiff, Facebook product manager.
  • Facebook will also move its U.S. 2020 Election Spend Tracker data that's currently available in the Ad Library to the company's Elections page, where the information will remain available for download.
  • The company says ads about social issues, elections or politics that run on Facebook and Instagram will continue to be archived and publicly available for seven years in both the Ad Library and Ad Library API.
  • Researchers can apply for access via Facebook.

The big picture: Facebook has been slowly starting to open up its data to researchers studying things like misinformation.

  • The company first said it would grant researchers access to its platform data in 2018. At the time, it promised to give a huge swath of data to Social Science One, an independent research commission comprised of third-party academics, to analyze in an effort to better understand Facebook's role in the democratic process.
  • It finally gave that research to the consortium in 2020. The company said it took much longer than anticipated to get the researchers the data.

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