The Meta Studies: Nuanced Findings, Corporate Spin, and Media Oversimplification

Justin Hendrix is CEO and editor of Tech Policy Press. Paul Barrett is deputy director and senior research scholar at the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg appearing on CNN, October 2021. This piece is cross-published with Just Security. A collaboration between social scientists and Meta has been held up as a potential “new model for platform research” that may help explain the effects social media companies have on politics and democratic institutions. With the first results from this ongoing project – four peer-reviewed studies – released last week, now is a good time to ask whether the unusual endeavor is living up to the hype.  There are reasons for skepticism.  The project is expected to produce at least 12 additional studies, so it is too soon for definitive conclusions. But while Meta gave outside researchers unprecedented access to platform data for a period of time around the 2020 election, the company’s self-serving distortion of the results illustrates an important weakness of any “collaborative” venture tied so closely to the subject under study. In this instance, Meta’s obfuscation appears to have succeeded: Mainstream media headlines and coverage of the research results often echoed the company’s line. Policymakers in the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and elsewhere are debating – and in the EU, beginning to implement – measures intended to shed more light on the systemic risks of social media and, more broadly, the effects…The Meta Studies: Nuanced Findings, Corporate Spin, and Media Oversimplification