[Issued Oct. 1; Updated Dec. 13]: The Hewlett Foundation provided this statement regarding the wind down of a project launched with a diverse group of charitable funders to support independent academic analysis of privacy-protected data on Facebook’s role in elections and democracy.
We were pleased that Facebook made accessible in September another previously unavailable dataset to researchers who are studying the platform’s impact on elections and democracy, and hope that they can continue to make progress. Our understanding, at this time, is that technical and legal complexities have hindered access to the breadth and depth of data that funders, independent researchers and Facebook’s own researchers originally hoped that independent researchers would be able to examine. We have made the decision alongside our fellow funders to not extend further support to the Social Media and Democracy Research Grant Program at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). As a result, the original project will wind down as planned by the end of 2019.
We have worked with our partners to assess next steps for this project and ensure we act as responsible charitable donors to the scholarly community. We anticipate that most, if not all, scholars whose proposals were previously accepted will be awarded funding, pending review by the SSRC. Social Science One will continue to provide access to scholars to existing datasets and any future datasets that Facebook makes available.
We knew this would be a challenging effort when we began, and we continue to believe that the health of our democracy demands that we make the effort. We still have a long way to go before the public has credible, trustworthy answers to the hardest questions about social media’s role in digital disinformation. The Hewlett Foundation remains committed to supporting independent scholarship – especially as more data, from Facebook or other sources, become available – that increases public understanding of these critical issues and allows society to create and sustain a healthy, well-informed democracy.