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Exclusive: Meta move to shut down election tool sparks alarm

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May 7, 2024
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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Civil rights organizations are sounding the alarm over Meta's decision to close CrowdTangle, which has been helping identify election threats.

Why it matters: Researchers, journalists, election officials and others use the tool for real-time monitoring of harmful content across social media platforms as disinformation threatens to undermine elections.

  • Civil rights groups said the tool is also used to thwart incitements of violence and the online targeting of vulnerable communities.

Driving the news: Leading advocacy organizations on Tuesday sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other company executives urging them to keep CrowdTangle beyond Inauguration Day, through at least Jan. 31, 2025.

Catch up fast: Meta announced in March that it would shut down CrowdTangle after Aug. 14 and replace it with the Meta Content Library, which requires an application to use.

What they're saying: Center for American Progress, Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Public Knowledge were among the signatories to the letter, shared exclusively with Axios.

  • "This decision jeopardizes essential pre- and post-election oversight mechanisms and undermines Meta's transparency efforts during this critical period, and at a time when social trust and digital democracy are alarmingly fragile," the groups write.

The gaps in functionality and access between CrowdTangle and the Meta Content Library identified by the groups include:

  • More restrictive rules for data use
  • An interface that is limited to searching for posts, whereas CrowdTangle offers multiple interfaces to research at an account level, see trends over time and more
  • A lack of clarity around how much research teams will be able to collaborate by, for example, sharing searches
  • The exclusion of for-profit newsrooms
  • Less robust keyword search functions.

"We see the potential for the usefulness of the Meta Content Library, but only if its rollout does not leave large gaps, many of which are highlighted above," the groups wrote.

The other side: Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said CrowdTangle provides only a fraction of publicly available data and that groups can use dozens of other tools to better understand what's happening across social media sites.

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