Researchers ask Meta to keep CrowdTangle online until after 2024 elections

The letter, also signed by CrowdTangle’s former CEO, claims shutting it down is a “direct threat” to researchers’ work

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The Mozilla Foundation and dozens of other research and advocacy groups are pushing back on Meta’s decisions to shut down its research tool, CrowdTangle, later this year. In an open letter, the group calls on Meta to keep CrowdTangle online until after 2024 elections, saying that it will harm their ability to track election misinformation in a year where “approximately half the world’s population” are slated to vote.

The letter, published by the Mozilla Foundation and signed by 90 groups as well as the former CEO of CrowdTangle, comes one week after Meta confirmed it would shut down the tool in August 2024. “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,” the letter writers say.

“This means almost all outside efforts to identify and prevent political disinformation, incitements to violence, and online harassment of women and minorities will be silenced. It’s a direct threat to our ability to safeguard the integrity of elections.” The group asks Meta to keep CrowdTangle online until January 2025, and to “rapidly onboard” election researchers onto its latest tools.

CrowdTangle has long been a source of frustration for Meta. It allows researchers, journalists and other groups to track how content is spreading across Facebook and Instagram. It’s also often cited by journalists in unflattering stories about Facebook and Instagram. For example, Engadget relied on CrowdTangle in an investigation into why Facebook Gaming was overrun with spam and pirated content in 2022. CrowdTangle was also the source for “Facebook’s Top 10,” a (now defunct) Twitter bot that posted daily updates on the most-interacted withFacebook posts containing links. The project, created by a New York Times reporter, regularly showed far-right and conservative pages over-performing, leading Facebook executives to argue the data wasn't an accurate representation of what was actually popular on the platform.

With CrowdTangle set to shut down, Meta is instead highlighting a new program called the Meta Content Library, which provides researchers with new tools to access publicly-accessible data in a streamlined way. The company has said it’s more powerful than what CrowdTangle enabled, but it’s also much more strictly controlled. Researchers from nonprofits and academic institutions must apply, and be approved, in order to access it. And since the vast majority of newsrooms are for-profit entities, most journalists will be automatically ineligible for access (it’s not clear if Meta would allow reporters at nonprofit newsrooms to use the Content Library.)

The other issue, according to Brandon Silverman, CrowdTangle’s former CEO who left Meta in 2021 is that the Meta Content Library isn’t currently powerful enough to be a full CrowdTangle replacement. “There are some areas where the MCL has way more data than CrowdTangle ever had, including reach and comments in particular,” Brandon Silverman, CrowdTangle’s former CEO who left Meta in 2021 wrote in a post on Substack last week. “But there are also some huge gaps in the tool, both for academics and civil society, and simply arguing that it has more data isn’t a claim that regulators or the press should take seriously.”

In a statement on X, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said that “academic and nonprofit institutions pursuing scientific or public interest research can apply for access” to the Meta Content Library, including nonprofit election experts. “The Meta Content Library is designed to contain more comprehensive data than CrowdTangle.”