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    Meta Enhances CrowdTangle for EU Election Transparency Amidst Regulatory Scrutiny

    Meta announced that it has added safety features to misinformation tracking and public insights tool Crowdtangle, ahead of the European Parliament elections in June. These changes address the concerns expressed last month by the European Commission about Meta’s plans to phase out the tool.

    The new update includes ‘Live Display’, consisting of post streams, letting users track posts’ performance in real-time. These posts include public Instagram and Facebook posts created by European Parliament candidates, Pages that include election keywords specific to a user’s country, and Instagram and Facebook public posts of  European Political Parties and Institutions. They are sorted by relevant keywords, Pages, public groups and Instagram accounts. Meta added that election keywords are localized to the official language of each EU country. This allows publishers, journalists, researchers, and fact-checkers to follow, analyze, and report on what’s happening across social media during the elections.

    The European Commission responded to these changes in a statement to Reuters,

    “The Commission will monitor the effective roll-out of these functionalities and will continue working with Meta towards more permanent solutions that meet all its concerns as set out in the opening decision.”

    Why did Meta make these changes?

    Last month, the European Commission opened an investigation into Meta to assess its alleged non-compliance with the Digital Services Act. The investigation was initiated when ahead of elections for the European parliament and multiple EU countries, Meta announced that it would shut down CrowdTangle’s functions on 14 August 2024. Under the EU’s Digital Services Act , ‘Very Large Online Platforms’ like Meta are required to share publicly available data with researchers and nonprofit groups for “the detection, identification, and understanding of systemic risks in the Union.”

    The Election Commission stated that phasing out a public insights tool in the year of elections could result in “damage to civic discourse and electoral processes in relation to the mis- and disinformation tracking capabilities, identification of voter interference and suppression, and the overall real-time transparency provided to fact-checkers, journalists and other relevant electoral stakeholders.”

    Thus, they believed that deprecating CrowdTangle could indicate that Meta had “failed to diligently assess and adequately mitigate risks related to Facebook’s and Instagram’s effects on civic discourse and electoral processes and other systemic risks.” Thus, potentially violating the DSA.

    Why is Meta discontinuing Crowdtangle?

    In its announcement sharing the discontinuation of CrowdTangle, Meta encouraged users to onboard onto its new public resource tool, Meta Content Library. Meta stated that Content Library was designed to help them meet the new regulatory requirements for data-sharing and transparency as mandated by the DSA “while meeting Meta’s rigorous privacy and security standards.” 

    However, in an open letter opposing Meta’s decision to shut down CrowdTangle in a year observing major elections globally, researchers and civil society organisations remarked that Content Library was not an adequate tool for election tracking. The letter noted that Content Library lacks features such as “automated insights to the interface, tools for benchmarking individual pieces of content, robust search flexibility, and more ways to automatically export data.” It also pointed out that Content Library seemed to be more focused on “long-term, academic research”. However, “real-time, public data”, provided by CrowdTangle is better suited to tracking elections. Further, relatively few researchers had access to the new tool. Researchers noted that it was unrealistic to expect them to pay  for “expensive alternatives designed for marking & commercial purposes”.

    Despite the support for CrowdTangle, Meta has long made attempts to phase out the tool. Throughout 2020 and 2021, there had been an “internal data wars” going on in Meta regarding the amount of data CrowdTangle should release to the public. CrowdTangle founder Brandon Silverman argued that it should share more data and be more transparent, before leaving the company in October 2021. In 2022, citing an anonymous source, Bloomberg reported that Meta had removed all development support from CrowdTangle.

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    The post Meta Enhances CrowdTangle for EU Election Transparency Amidst Regulatory Scrutiny appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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