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Meta to shut down its crucial misinformation tracking tool ahead of 2024 US elections

CrowdTangle has been crucial in assisting journalists and researchers in tracking the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms

In a surprising development that could have serious implications for the US elections later this year, Meta has declared its plans to discontinue CrowdTangle, a widely used tool for monitoring social media and ensuring transparency. This tool has been instrumental in helping researchers monitor the spread of online misinformation and hate speech.

During US elections, Meta’s platforms, including Instagram and Facebook, are often scrutinized for their handling of false news and misinformation. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, recently decided to shut down CrowdTangle effective August 14, 2024, which has triggered intense discussions among journalists, researchers, and civil society groups, especially in light of the forthcoming US presidential election.

CrowdTangle has been crucial in assisting journalists and researchers in tracking the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms. Its upcoming closure has raised questions about the potential effects on attempts to hold tech companies responsible for their role in disseminating false information.

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Meta plans to replace CrowdTangle with a new Content Library API

Meta has stated that it will substitute CrowdTangle with a new Content Library API. However, this change will require researchers and nonprofits to request access to the company’s data.

Entities such as the Mozilla Foundation and several other civil society organizations have criticized the move, arguing that the new offering lacks many of CrowdTangle’s key features. They have called on Meta to keep the original tool operational until January 2025.

In response to the criticism, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone defended the decision, asserting that the Content Library will offer more extensive data than CrowdTangle and will be available to nonprofits, academics, and election integrity experts.

Brandon Silverman, the co-founder and former CEO of CrowdTangle, who continued to work on the tool after Facebook’s acquisition in 2016, expressed his conviction that it’s crucial for platforms to make their data available for external examination. He stressed the importance for regulators and elected officials to set legal requirements for platform transparency and data accessibility.

Silverman pointed out the European Union’s Digital Services Act, which imposes transparency requirements around data sharing. He observed a growing trend among various platforms, including Alibaba and TikTok, to provide programs that allow outside researchers access to real-time public content.

However, Silverman recognized the challenges in implementing such measures, citing Twitter’s restrictive data access policies and Meta’s cutback in data sharing initiatives. He underscored the need to find a balance between data accessibility and privacy protection, advocating for wider public involvement and discussion on the matter.

As Meta gets ready to phase out CrowdTangle, concerns continue about the potential consequences for transparency and accountability in the digital realm, especially in the run-up to major political events like the US presidential election. The decision highlights broader debates about the responsibilities of tech companies and the necessity for regulatory intervention to protect democratic processes in the digital age.

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Dr. Shubhangi Jha

Avid reader, infrequent writer, evolving

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