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Facebook enlists researchers to study its impact on 2020 election

August 31, 2020, 10:05 PM UTC

Facebook is working with a group of third-party researchers to study how content and user behavior on the social network’s apps affect the 2020 election.

A group of 17 university researchers will look at how Facebook and Instagram influence issues such as political polarization, and whether people vote, said Talia Stroud, a communications professor at the University of Texas who is co-charing the research group. Users must consent to participate, and will be paid, says Chaya Nayak, who leads Facebook’s open research and transparency team. While Facebook is covering the costs to participants, the researchers are not taking money from the company. The researchers won’t need Facebook’s approval before it can publish its findings, the company said in a blog post.

“We thought it was incredibly important as a group that no one take money from Facebook,” said Joshua Tucker, a politics professor at New York University, and co-chair of the research group. “It was crucial to our independence.”

Facebook’s role in the 2016 election wasn’t widely known publicly until months later, when it was learned that Russian actors used the company’s services to sow division and spread disinformation. Facebook is often criticized for the divisive political content that appears on its platform.