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Meta kills data tool that helped researchers uncover shady stuff on Facebook, Instagram

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CrowdTangle, a powerful data tool popular among academic researchers and journalists, will be officially discontinued this summer by its owner, Meta. “This message is to let you know that CrowdTangle will no longer be available after August 14, 2024,” reads CrowdTangle’s e-mail sent to its users and obtained by Neowin.

In simple terms, through CrowdTangle, the academia and media were able to analyze what is happening on social media like Facebook and Instagram. They could have studied popular content and public accounts and, for example, studied the spread of misinformation and hate speech – topics that often sparked a wave of negative press for Meta.

The tool was created as a third-party product that was acquired in 2016 by Meta itself. However, in recent years, the company made several crucial steps implying the tool will be discontinued at some point. Thus, Thursday's announcement didn’t come as a surprise.

The aforementioned e-mail communication clarifies the fate of CrowdTangle in the last months of its existence:

“Data in CrowdTangle will continue to be updated in real time until August 14, 2024. However, please note that the platform will be in maintenance mode and platform support will be limited to bugs that impact a wide number of users.

“After August 14, 2024, you will no longer have access to CrowdTangle’s User Interface or API.”

The timing of Meta’s decision is being criticized due to the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. This move will prevent researchers and journalists from monitoring and analyzing data leading to Election Day.

Meta emphasizes that it is building a successor dubbed Meta Content Library. The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta presents it as an overall upgrade with new features – such as the ability to search content based on how widely it was viewed and to see data on public comments – that CrowdTangle lacked.

However, two researchers with early access to Meta Content Library approached by WSJ were not impressed, citing several important limitations.

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Their opinion is shared by CrowdTangle’s co-founder and former CEO, Brandon Silverman. “Despite Meta’s claims, the Content Library isn’t close to being a replacement for CrowdTangle at the moment,” said Silverman in a blog post before diving into details. However, he thinks the foundation for Meta Content Library is great and there is potential to close all the important gaps between the two tools.

That said, beyond the feature package, there is one more crucial catch with Meta Content Library. The new tool is available only to researchers who conduct scientific or public interest research and maintain an affiliation with a qualified academic or non-profit institution. That means the journalists from commercial media will be left out.

That includes the fact-checkers from commercial media outlets. The only exception is for fact-checkers who officially work with Meta (part of its internal fact-checking program fighting misinformation on Facebook and Instagram) and journalists who conduct research and who maintain an affiliation with a qualified non-profit or academic institution.

The news is not important only to the U.S., but also to the rest of the world, because 2024 is a so-called super-election year, with important elections held in tens of countries across the globe.

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