Facebook Announces Independent Probe Into Social Media’s Impact on Elections

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Facebook is backing an independent research group tasked with looking into the “effects of social media on elections and democracy,” the company’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced on Monday.

With an eye to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections — as well as several key elections around the globe — the committee of leading academics will study how the social network can tackle the spread of misinformation.

“We’ll give those researchers access to our resources so they can draw unbiased conclusions about Facebook’s role in elections, including how we’re handling the risks on our platform and what steps we need to take before future elections,” Zuckerberg said in a blog post. “They’ll share their work publicly, and we won’t require our approval to publish.”

It’s the latest in a string of new initiatives put in place by the social network, as the company deals with the fallout of both a massive data leak, as well as the lingering impact of Russian troll accounts on the 2016 U.S. election. Facebook booted hundreds of Kremlin-tied accounts last week, and implemented a verification process for political advertisers last week.

The commission comes as Zuckerberg prepares to testify in front of Congress on the Cambridge Analytica data leak, during which up to 87 million users had their information unknowingly accessed.

The independent research group is being funded by several well-known nonprofits: the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Facebook head honcho pointed to the 2016 U.S. election, where more than 100 million Americans were hit by Russian troll ads, as a wakeup call.

“Looking back, it’s clear we were too slow identifying election interference in 2016, and we need to do better in future elections,” said Zuckerberg. “This is a new model of collaboration between researchers and companies, and it’s part of our commitment to protect the integrity of elections around the world.”

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