Examining the Meta 2020 US Election Research Partnership

Audio of this conversation is available via your favorite podcast service. A unique collaboration between social scientists and Meta to conduct research on Facebook and Instagram during the height of the 2020 US election has at long last produced its first work products. The release of four peer-reviewed studies last week in Science and Nature mark the first of as many as sixteen studies that promise fresh insights into the complex dynamics of social media and public discourse.  But beyond the findings of the research, the partnership between Meta and some of the most prominent researchers in the field has been held up as a model. With active discussions ongoing in multiple jurisdictions about how best to facilitate access to platform data for independent researchers, it’s worth scrutinizing the strengths and weaknesses of this partnership. And to do that, I’m joined by one researcher who was able to observe and evaluate nearly every detail of the process for the last three years: the project’s rapporteur, Michael Wagner, who in his day job is a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. What follows is a lightly edited transcript. Michael Wagner: My name is Mike Wagner. I’m the Helen Firstbrook Franklin professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Justin Hendrix: And what is the title that you’ve used to refer to yourself as part of this unique collaboration between Meta and independent researchers? Michael Wagner: I am the project’s rapporteur, which is…Examining the Meta 2020 US Election Research Partnership