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Facebook partners with external researchers to study its impact during U.S. election

(Reuters) - Facebook Inc FB.O said on Monday it is partnering with external researchers to examine the impact of the social media site on society during the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The company said findings of the studies will not be published until the middle of next year, at the earliest.

The initiative expands on its Social Science One project with academics who study political impacts of social media.

A group of 17 independent researchers from the fields of elections, democracy and social media will now work with internal Facebook data scientists to design the studies.

The company expects between 200,000 and 400,000 users to opt into the project, which will log what they see and how they behave on Facebook and Instagram.

It will introduce targeted changes to some participants’ experiences, such as advertising or types of posts shown to them.

Facebook employees will supply aggregated data to the external academics to protect the privacy of those users.

Online social networks have been drawing flak for what has been called a lax approach to fake news reports and misinformation campaigns, which many believe influenced voters and affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook said it would not pay the researchers or restrict them from publishing their findings, but is entitled to review the research before its publication.

While not compensating researchers, Facebook will pay for the costs of the study, such as payments to survey vendors, said Joshua Tucker, professor of politics at New York University and one of the project’s researchers.

Philanthropies backing the Social Science One project, which Facebook started organizing in 2018, backed out last year citing the company’s delay in delivering pledged data to researchers. It had said the delays were the result of privacy concerns.

Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru and Katie Paul in San Francisco; Editing by Maju Samuel

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