Facebook Joins With Foundations to Study Its Role in Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is working with several foundations to help increase public understanding of the social media giant’s role in elections and democracy.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation and several others announced Monday that they will support research by an independent committee of scholars who will be given access to proprietary data from Facebook. The announcement comes as Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg heads to Washington to face two days of grilling from congressional leaders.

The independent commission will solicit research in areas including social media, elections and democracy, according to a statement. The consortium will pay for the research to ensure its independence.

“The goal is both to get the ideas of leading academics on how to address these issues as well as to hold us accountable for making sure we protect the integrity of these elections on Facebook,” Zuckerberg said in a blog post.

Facebook came under fire last year after it was revealed that Russian agents used the site to spread misinformation during the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Zuckerberg has made it one of his top priorities this year to tackle such issues. Facebook started looking into social media’s impact on democracy in January, after Bloomberg published a story explaining the company’s efforts to train world leaders, including those who use Facebook against their own people.

"This commitment by Mark Zuckerberg, and Facebook, reflects the need to take responsibility for how the platform is used,” said Larry Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation. “We recognize, given our own institutional heritage, that Silicon Valley leaders with high ideals who pledge and maintain an enduring commitment to the public interest can make a profound and long-lasting contribution to society."

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