Facebook is making it easier for researchers to study its platform, including marginalized groups and other non-mainstream movements, using a new researcher API. The API, which will be available later this year, makes it easier for academics to study content shared in groups and public pages. It comes more than three years after Facebook shut down much of its platform in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
That made it difficult for outsiders to study the social network, a trend the company says it now wants to reverse. The new API allows qualified researchers to study US audience-facing Pages, Groups, and Events. This includes the texts of specific posts from users.
Additionally, researchers also get access to follower metrics and engagement statistics for groups, events, and pages.
Chaya Nayak, head of open search and transparency at Facebook said, this API is specifically designed for researchers.
Compared to other search data offerings, such as CrowdTangle, the Researchers API includes the US public page, events, and group data across Facebook. This is regardless of the number of followers.
Marginalized Facebook groups
This is important because it allows the study of marginalized and non-dominant movements as they develop. Instead of just becoming prominent across the platform. Facebook's handling of marginalized groups has been a major problem over the past year. The company was widely criticized for failing to block QAnon even after it became an activist movement on the ground.
After the election, Facebook failed to recognize the risks posed by the Stop the Steal movement, which helped fuel the January 6 violence. Allowing researchers to study smaller groups helps Facebook better prepare for the dangerously marginalized group trying to organize through its platform. Although the new API initially covers the US only, Facebook has made it clear that it plans to expand it to other geographies.
Facebook said, in addition, in the future, we are using research insights to consider changes in our product.
Facebook's relationship with researchers who want to study the platform has at times soured in recent years. Some academics said the company is making it very difficult to access the limited data it provides. The social network was widely criticized for trying to prevent researchers at New York University from studying the company's political ad targeting system last year.