This is an interesting move - at a time where Facebook is under increasing pressure over how its data is being used, and misused, the platform has announced that its actually looking to further open up data access to researchers and academics, by enabling them to apply to use its CrowdTangle platform trends tool.
As explained by Facebook:
"The research community is doing important work in the areas of misinformation and abuse of social media platforms. To better support research on these topics and provide more transparency about what's happening on both Facebook and Instagram, we are excited to announce that we're opening up access to CrowdTangle to academics and the research community."
But the research community is also the same group which gave Cambridge Analytica access to in-depth Facebook insights, right?
Admittedly, CrowdTangle doesn't provide the same level of insight as the in-depth pychometric data these groups used to profile user traits. But still, giving more groups more access to Facebook data of any kind seems like a strange move right now from a PR standpoint.
But then again, maybe it's no big deal - CrowdTangle, which provides insight into evolving trends on the platform by analyzing public posts in real-time, has been accessible to journalists for free since 2017 as part of the Facebook Journalism Project. The insights available through the dashboard are designed to help media teams get a pulse of what's trending on the platform - CrowdTangle doesn't keep tabs on all Facebook profiles, but it monitors a selection of publicly posted content, ideally enough to show key interest spikes and topics of interest.
And Facebook says that academic groups are already making good use of the tool:
"The University of California, Berkeley is using CrowdTangle to investigate the spread of misinformation in Myanmar and other countries. Duke University is measuring the impact of Facebook groups in North Carolina during recent emergencies. The University of Münster is tracking misinformation and elections integrity. The Atlantic Council utilized CrowdTangle to track claims of electronic voting fraud circulating in Brazil. Additionally, Pew Research has used CrowdTangle to track and research media trends."
Definitely, there will be practical, beneficial academic uses for the tool - but again, you'd think Facebook would be hesitant to open up more of its data, even through the filter of another app, at this stage.
For academics and researchers who are interested, Facebook says that it'll be opening up the CrowdTangle application process in the coming months. If you're part of a media organization and want to get access, you can get in touch with your Facebook partnerships contact.