Jul 11, 2018

Facebook gives researchers massive data set to study misinformation

Photo illustration: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook has provided one of its largest data sets ever to Social Science One, an independent research commission comprised of third-party academics, to analyze the data in an effort to better understand Facebook's role in the democratic process.

Why it matters: Facebook has a long and complicated relationship with researchers, and particularly researchers who try to access its data for election research. It wants to protect user privacy and its aggregate data, which its business depends on.

The big picture: This is the largest data set Facebook has ever handed over to researchers. The group says Facebook has handed over roughly a petabyte of data, with about one trillion numbers in it.

  • The set includes almost every public user URL that Facebook users have clicked on.
  • The public can see the codebook of the data set on http://socialscience.one
  • The data is broken down by geography, demographic, ideology, summaries of what the other end of the link entails.
  • There's also aggregated data. (How many people liked a post, reacted to a post, etc.)

Who's backing it: The research is being funded by seven foundations.

  • No research funding will come from Facebook.
  • A third party, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), will independently administer research funding, lead the peer review process, and work with Social Science One to manage the research.

How it works: Facebook is not involved in the peer review process and academics can choose what they wish to research.

  • There are unique privacy protections to ensure the data is used and accessed properly. This particular data set has no individual sets of data.
  • For now, this is just a Facebook-focused project, but researchers say they hope to expand beyond Facebook to Facebook-owned apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram. Messenger, etc.
  • Researchers concede that the research will become more difficult as more communication transitions to encrypted messaging platforms, like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Flashback: Facebook announced in April that would be providing this data to Social Science One. Social Science One wants to work with other social networks, but says that for now they are just setting up the data research partnership with Facebook.

  • "We definitely have plans to talk other companies to see if they are interested," Gary King, co-chair of the commission, told reporters on a call Wednesday. "We think this can scale to other companies if they are interested."

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 62,300 U.S. health care workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 291 have died from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. COVID-19 had infected about 9,300 health professionals when the CDC gave its last update on April 17.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 5,589,626 — Total deaths: 350,453 — Total recoveries — 2,286,956Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 1,680,913 — Total deaths: 98,913 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).