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March 25, 2024, 9 a.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Andrew Deck   |   March 25, 2024

Over 100 social media research, advocacy, and watchdog groups have signed an open letter to Meta calling on the company to extend use of its CrowdTangle platform until 2025. 

Led by the Mozilla Foundation, the letter comes just days after Meta said it would shutter CrowdTangle officially on August 14. For years, CrowdTangle has been an essential portal into the world of disinformation and conspiracy theories on Facebook and Instagram. It is used by journalists, fact-checkers, academics, and election monitoring officials alike.

That said, the news was hardly a shock. Meta’s announcement follows years of disinvestment and growing restrictions placed on CrowdTangle, in what has been described as a slow-motion killing. But for signatories, Meta’s timing in finally blocking off all access could not be worse. 

In 2024, over 60 countries will hold major elections and over half of the world’s population will be eligible to go to the polls. With this historic year come fears that election disinformation will once again spread across platforms like Facebook and Instagram, undermining the integrity of election results or provoking violence. 

The date set for CrowdTangle’s closure is just three months before the U.S. presidential election.

“Meta’s decision will effectively prohibit the outside world, including election integrity experts, from seeing what’s happening on Facebook and Instagram — during the biggest election year on record…It’s a direct threat to our ability to safeguard the integrity of elections,” the open letter reads. 

Signatures already include digital rights groups like Access Now, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Global Witness, and Algorithm Watch. Individuals have also signed, including prominent academics and Brandon Silverman, CrowdTangle’s own co-founder and former CEO.

The letter calls for Meta to keep CrowdTangle up and running until January 2025. It also demands rapid onboarding for all organizations already on CrowdTangle to Meta’s replacement tool, called the Content Library.

Watchdog groups claim the Content Library is not fit to handle the urgent needs of the 2024 election year. “It lacks vital CrowdTangle features like automated insights to the interface, tools for benchmarking individual pieces of content, robust search flexibility, and more ways to automatically export data,” reads the Mozilla letter. 

The letter also calls out the Content Library’s high barriers to entry. Access is being run out of the University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), which is a member-based data repository. Its members mostly include registered universities and colleges, not newsrooms and advocacy groups.

Several hundred organizations are currently registered to use the Content Library through the ICPSR. Journalists would need to partner and filter requests through one of them to receive access for their reporting.

In a statement on Twitter, Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Meta, called the claims of the open letter “just wrong,” explaining the Content Library is designed to eventually be more comprehensive than CrowdTangle. “Academic and nonprofit institutions pursuing scientific or public interest research can apply for access. This includes nonprofit election integrity experts,” he wrote. But he made no mention of journalists.

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