Researchers Urge Meta to Preserve CrowdTangle Until Post-2024 Elections

The Mozilla Foundation, alongside numerous other study groups and supporters, are resisting Meta’s decision to close its research application, CrowdTangle, in the coming year. In an openly written letter, the collective asks Meta to continue operating CrowdTangle through the 2024 elections, as they claim it’s essential to curtail electoral misinformation, especially during a time period where nearly half the global population is expected to vote.

This appeal, issued by the Mozilla Foundation and supported by 90 other organizations, as well as CrowdTangle’s previous CEO, comes a week following Meta’s disclosure that the program would shut down in August 2024. According to the collective, Meta’s decision will effectively prevent external parties including election integrity specialists, from understanding the developments occurring on Facebook and Instagram during a significant electoral year.

They argue that the move will drastically hinder independent attempts to recognize and control political misinformation, incitement of violence, and online intimidation of women and minority communities. They see it as a direct attack on their capacity to protect election integrity. The collective urges Meta to operate CrowdTangle until January 2025 and swiftly incorporate election researchers into their latest tools rollout.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has had a strained relationship with CrowdTangle for some time. The tool facilitated researchers, journalists, and other groups to monitor content distribution on Facebook and Instagram. It’s also been frequently used in exposing unfavorable practices on Facebook and Instagram platforms. In 2022 for instance, Engadget used CrowdTangle in an examination that exposed Facebook Gaming’s issues with spam and pirated content.

CrowdTangle also provided data for “Facebook’s Top 10,” a now non-operational Twitter bot that consistently updated the most interacted Facebook posts containing links. This was met with criticism by Facebook executives as they believed the data didn’t accurately represent what was genuinely popular on their platform.

With CrowdTangle’s impending shut down, Meta is openly promoting its new initiative, the Meta Content Library, which presents researchers with new tools for accessing publicly available data. Despite offering more comprehensive data compared to CrowdTangle, access to the Meta Content Library is heavily regulated. Nonprofit researchers and academic institutions must apply and gain approval to use it, making it inaccessible to a majority of journalists due to their for-profit status.

Moreover, Brandon Silverman, CrowdTangle’s former CEO who left Meta in 2021, believes that the Meta Content Library is currently not robust enough to replace CrowdTangle. In a recent Substack post, he notes that the new tool, despite having more information on reach and comments, has glaring gaps that can’t be overlooked by the research community.

In response, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone stated on X that academic and nonprofit institutions looking to undertake scientific or public-interest research can apply for access to the Meta Content Library. He asserted that the new tool is designed to furnish more comprehensive data than its predecessor, CrowdTangle.