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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

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse under scrutiny for elite club affiliations

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in February. Photo: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Image

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement Wednesday that he is a member of an exclusive Rhode Island sailing club that lacks diversity.

Why it matters: Whitehouse has repeatedly spoken out against systemic racism and come under scrutiny this week for his family's affiliation with elite clubs. This is the second such club accused of lacking diversity that the senator has been linked to in recent days

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Scoop: Border Democrats want migrants vaccinated

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some Democrats representing border districts want President Biden to vaccinate migrants crossing into the U.S. — especially if he lifts public health restrictions that have prevented them from claiming asylum on American soil.

Why it matters: Inoculating migrants treads a fine line of protecting the U.S. population while possibly incentivizing more migration with the offer of free COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans are likely to pounce on that.

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State Dept. fears Chinese threats to labor auditors

A space for media is designated by Chinese authorities near a mosque in the Xinjiang region of China. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is concerned organizations performing supply-chain audits in China are coming under pressure from Chinese authorities.

Why it matters: U.S. law prohibits importing products made through forced labor, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to verify whether products from China are tainted.