On October 20, CITRIS Policy Lab Director Brandie Nonnecke was featured on the technology podcast, CompilHER, to discuss online election integrity and data protection issues. These topics are particularly relevant due to increased fears around digital disinformation networks threatening election protections.
Nonnecke raised concerns about social media platforms restricting access to data through their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This issue is critical in the face of growing disinformation campaigns with malicious intent to fracture democratic processes. Though upholding data privacy and security are important considerations, access to platform data for researchers is necessary to ensure transparency and accountability in the effects platforms have on society.
“To me, this is incredibly problematic when we think about the 2016 presidential election and the effect social media companies had on that election. If we didn’t have independent third party research, we would not know what was happening on those platforms,” Nonnecke says.
Nonnecke emphasizes collaboration between private industry and public-interest research in order to ameliorate disinformation networks. As an example, while researchers can use existing algorithms to detect bots (fake spam accounts) on Twitter, they do not have access to information on who made the bots in the first place. Though platforms have made efforts to aid social science research, these collaborations lie unstably on companies’ good will.
“There is a deep passion within academia to research this issue, so I just implore the private sector to continue those partnerships with academics to conduct this research… There’s no federal or state mandate that requires that platforms open up their data to be shared for academics for research. Though I believe that it perhaps should be, given that we know platforms have had this direct effect on our society.”
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
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