Tools for Platform Research: Lessons from the Medical Research Industry

Naomi Shiffman is the Head of Data and Implementation for the Meta Oversight Board, where she leads a team in assessing the Board’s impact on Meta’s content ecosystem. Laboratory at the Hospital of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, 1925. Source Social media platforms guard their data closely for a variety of reasons — chief among them user privacy, concern about misinterpretation, and protecting business interests. This has led to a frequently shifting landscape for researchers trying to understand the social impacts of products that have grown central to our society. The privacy concern has led platforms to primarily share data at scale that either is already public (see Twitter academic API, CrowdTangle, YouTube and TikTok’s researcher programs), or via overly burdensome privacy mechanisms, such as Meta’s differentially private URL Shares dataset. This often makes it very challenging to extract any meaning from the data at all.   Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has been a key driver of fierce company protection of user data, in addition to the backlash following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other major data leaks. However, under Article 40 of the EU Digital Services Act (DSA), platforms will be required to create researcher data-sharing programs and face this long-standing challenge head-on. The European Commission is currently inviting comment on how exactly this should work. Luckily, platforms and regulators have a strong precedent in medical research. While it’s true that social media data has many privacy-sensitive elements, there’s as much– if not more– privacy-sensitive data held…Tools for Platform Research: Lessons from the Medical Research Industry