On May 17th, Jesse Littlewood searched the internet using a tool called CrowdTangle to spot the false narratives he knew could change the perception of the results: damaging stories about ballots being collected and dropped off in bulk by unauthorized people.
The vice president for campaigns with the voter advocacy group Common Cause came across dozens of posts showing a "Wanted" poster accusing a woman of being a ballot mule in Georgia. He used social media to raise alarms. Littlewood said there was no evidence that the person was doing anything illegal. It had to be taken out.
Facebook owns the search tool Littlewood used, and the company has kept its plans a secret. The company isn't saying when it will scrap it. Littlewood said that planning for future elections is at risk if you don't know the future of CrowdTangle. Thousands of volunteers work in shifts to identify false information on the internet.
The company plans to make even more valuable tools for researchers. She said that CrowdTangle would be around for at least this year's US elections.
Kate Starbird is an associate professor at the University of Washington and co- founder of the Center for an informed electorate. It would limit the ability of researchers to help others counter real-time misinformation and could lead to voters being manipulated.
Without a tool that looks across Facebook, Common Cause wouldn't be able to do its work. CrowdTangle gives insight into what's happening on social media. The level of misinformation will be higher when the midterms are done.
Companies react to the harmful content reports that researchers make. At least 16 of the posts remained in mid- June, despite Littlewood warning that they were false. They were taken down by Facebook after media outlets contacted them.
The CrowdTangle product experience is the same as it was for the 2020 election, according to McPike, the spokesman. Researchers are pointing to a buggy experience as a result of the company pulling support over the past few months.
The Digital Services Act, a landmark law in Europe that aims to provide transparency into how Facebook, YouTube and other internet services amplify divisive content, gained traction, according to a person familiar with the situation. CrowdTangle is on the verge of being shut down, with some Facebook engineers tasked to kill it, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
At the time it purchased CrowdTangle, Meta said it wanted to support news publishers in discovering how their content was performing on social media so they could improve. Russia's campaign to influence the 2016 election was revealed by the company a few months later. CrowdTangle became a tool for manipulation as the public debated the spread of false information on the internet. It was hard for executives to support a feature that resulted in so many crises for Meta.
The CrowdTangle team within Meta was dissolved in the summer of 2021. A $40,000 grant that was intended to help two research partners use CrowdTangle data to understand public discussion around the Covid-19 Pandemic has been withdrawn. The former CEO of CrowdTangle left Facebook in October. As it worked through staffing constraints, Meta paused new users from getting access to CrowdTangle. The process of introducing new partners to the service hasn't started yet.
A person with knowledge of the matter said that less than five engineers were working on keeping CrowdTangle afloat. In addition to leading fact-checking organizations around the world such as Agence France-Presse in France and VERA Files in the Philippines, there are hundreds of other academics and researchers who use the tool.
There have been no new features added to CrowdTangle. CrowdTangle had major new products every half-year and new updates every month. As the computing load increases, researchers worry that the product's instability could become worse. Buntain said that he would expect the load to change during the mid-terms. Is it stable in the important time frame?
Thousands of voter advocate volunteers nationwide have access to a comprehensive monitoring list of every candidate on the ballot in 2022.
Enhancements that would benefit the research and transparency community aren't being added by Facebook. There are long-standing bugs on the platform and missing features, such as the ability to filter for posts that have already been fact checked by Facebook.
Meta said that it addresses potential issues on CrowdTangle as soon as possible. The company gives a dedicated tool for its third-party fact checkers to comb through its social media apps and label content that may be misleading.
The research community the team worked with had long seen how impactful data sharing was, but that CrowdTangle hadstruggled with how to tell that story broadly, including inside Meta. He said in an interview that he thinks that has started to shift. Getting to some baseline transparency has to be the first step in the process.
The company has attempted to promote its other transparency reports, such as the Widely Viewed Content report it distributes every quarter, which was originally rolled out as a rebuttal to CrowdTangle data. A polished report from Meta isn't as revealing as a tool they can use to ask their own questions According to the New York Times, the first content report was put on hold because of a debate about whether it would cause a public relations problem.
The company has assigned its data transparency team to work on a replacement tool that is privacy safe. Those who have access to a separate tool for academic research say it is not easy to use. The researcher at NJIT said that researchers who want to use it need to know how to code to extract analysis from the data set and that academics don't have insight into how Meta compiles the data.
Researchers caught a mistake by Facebook when they discovered a discrepancy between the data it gave to its research community and the data it released publicly. Half of Facebook's US users were left out of the data because they engaged with political pages that made their political leanings clear. The value of multiple points of view into data was shown by that incident.
CrowdTangle is unparalleled in its ease of use, the speed with which you can get insights, and the speed with which you can get insights. That has to be said.