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Meta’s Replacement for CrowdTangle Under Fire from EU Academics

Meta is facing criticism for ending CrowdTangle. Researchers fear a proposed replacement limits access and hinders investigations.

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Meta is currently under scrutiny from the academic community and researchers regarding its methods for monitoring misinformation on its platforms. The European Commission has already initiated a formal investigation into potential violations of the Digital Services Act by the giant. Experts argue that Meta's decision to discontinue its political misinformation monitoring tool, CrowdTangle, without providing an adequate replacement, is risky given the upcoming elections in the UK and US.

Concerns About CrowdTangle's Replacement

Meta proposes replacing CrowdTangle with the Meta Content Library (MCL) and Content Library API, which aim to offer broad access to public content archives on and . However, academics have raised doubts about the efficacy of this new system. Kalina Bontcheva, a professor at the University of Sheffield, told The Register that MCL does not allow users to download data, hindering researchers from validating their work. She stressed that scientific research relies on repeatability and evidence, which MCL fails to support. Bontcheva also noted that MCL periodically deletes data, making it hard to verify previous findings.

Another sticking point is a $1 million liability clause that Meta requires users to sign, potentially deterring non-profits from utilizing the tool. While Meta claims that non-profits focused on scientific or public interest research can apply for access, Bontcheva argues that the vetting process is unrealistic for many non-governmental organizations.

Impact on the Research Community

CrowdTangle has been a vital tool for the research community in studying misinformation campaigns. For example, the Brussels-based NGO EU DisinfoLab used CrowdTangle to reveal the Russian influence operation Doppelganger, which aimed to erode support for Ukraine through fake articles and videos. Alexandre Alaphilippe, the executive director of EU DisinfoLab, mentioned that CrowdTangle was key to understanding how content spreads across various groups and identifying coordinated behaviors.

Researchers have also observed that CrowdTangle's performance has degraded over the last three years, with Meta redeploying the team responsible for it to other tasks. Meta has justified discontinuing CrowdTangle by pointing out its performance and design limitations, asserting that MCL offers a more holistic view of what users engage with on its platforms. Despite this, researchers remain wary as they have not yet gained access to the new tool.

Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke has been writing about all things tech for more than five years. He is following Microsoft closely to bring you the latest news about Windows, Office, Azure, Skype, HoloLens and all the rest of their products.