Research News

Vanderbilt professors to advise Facebook data research initiative

Elizabeth Zechmeister (Vanderbilt University)

Elizabeth Zechmeister, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and director of the Latin American Public Opinion Project, and Noam Lupu, associate professor of political science and associate director of LAPOP, have been named advisers with Social Science One, an independent research commission investigating the impact of Facebook on democracy around the globe.

Social Science One was co-founded by Harvard’s Gary King and Stanford’s Nathaniel Persily in response to revelations of personal data misuse by Cambridge Analytica and others in recent years. It is designed to provide an ethical framework for conducting social science research using private industry data that also preserves academic freedom. Facebook announced its intention to become the commission’s first industry partner in April. The commission’s name, structure and first data set were unveiled in a conference call on July 11.

Noam Lupu (Vanderbilt University)

Social Science One serves as a third-party mediator between industry and potential researchers. It is composed of distinguished academics who will have access to Facebook’s proprietary data, while also having the expertise to understand what kind of data would be useful to the academic community. This commission, not Facebook, will identify the data sets that will be made available to scholars and will develop requests for proposals based on those data sets. The first data set is an aggregate list of public links shared across the platform. More data sets are forthcoming.

Zechmeister and Lupu will serve on the regional advisory committee focusing on research involving Latin America. One of the first data sets to come out with input from that group will focus on the recent presidential election in Mexico.

Academics who submit proposals must not just meet the requirements of peer-reviewed social science; they must also pass a rigorous ethical review process developed explicitly for research involving personal data prior to receiving funding and access to the data. This peer review process for the Facebook partnership is administered by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Facebook will not review the research before it is published.

To preserve a nonpartisan research agenda, Social Science One is funded by an ideologically diverse group of seven nonprofits. Visit the Social Science One website for more information about the commission.

Zechmeister and Lupu will serve on the regional advisory committee focusing on research involving Latin America.