Social Science One: Public Launch

Today, we are launching Social Science One with the rollout of this website and the issuing of our first RFP; academics can now apply for data access and funding to study the role of social media in elections and democracy.

Our news release:

Independent Research Commission Partnering with Facebook and 7 Nonprofit Foundations to Study Role of Social Media in Elections and Democracy Reveals New Name and Announces First Data Set is Available for Academic Research

Social Science One will foster academic-industry partnerships around the world, initially focused on analyzing Facebook data


The independent research commission that was announced in April to use Facebook data to analyze the role of social media on elections and democracy revealed today the organization’s name — Social Science One. The new organization also provided details about how it will work, and announced that academics can now apply for access and funding to study the first Facebook data set.


Facebook embraced Social Science One’s innovative approach, which gives scholars a way to conduct social science research about private industry data, to reach new understandings of the role of the company’s social media platform in the democratic process. While the Facebook partnership is Social Science One’s initial effort, the group said it plans eventually to facilitate academic study of other questions with Facebook data and other types of proprietary data from different companies and industries.


“The data collected by private companies has vast potential to help social scientists understand and solve society’s greatest challenges,” said Social Science One co-founder and Facebook partnership co-chair Gary King, who is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University and Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “But until now that data has typically been unavailable for academic research. Social Science One has established an ethical structure for marshalling privacy preserving industry data for the greater social good while ensuring full academic publishing freedom.’’


Social Science One’s breakthrough is its two-part structure: A commission of distinguished academics acts as a trusted third party, with full access to the company’s proprietary data and knowledge of what is needed by the academic community, and identifies data sets that form formal Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Outside academics who pass a rigorous peer review process are given data access, research funding, the ability to publish without prior review by the company, and other services. The peer review process for the Facebook partnership is administered by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).


“Social Science One is delighted to release, with help from the SSRC—the premier social science research nonprofit—the first Request for Proposals for academic researchers around the world who want access to anonymized, privacy-protected Facebook data to explore social media’s impact on elections and democracy,” said Nathaniel Persily, who is Social Science One co-founder and Facebook partnership co-chair, as well as the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Co-Director of its Project on Democracy and the Internet. “We encourage those who are interested to go to our new website, SocialScience.One.”


The first privacy-protected data set that researchers may propose to analyze involves information and misinformation. It includes about a petabyte of data with almost all public URLs Facebook users globally have clicked on, when, and by what types of people, including many links judged to be intentionally false news stories by third party fact checkers. The SocialScience.One website describes these data and offers a growing list of other data sets in preparation.


The research will be funded by a group of charitable foundations, including Laura and John Arnold Foundation, The Democracy Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Charles Koch Foundation, Omidyar Network’s Tech and Society Solutions Lab, and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. SSRC will independently administer research funding, lead the peer review process, and work with Social Science One to manage the research. Any Facebook data Social Science One determines is within the agreed upon scope and legally allowed may be used for research. No research funding will come from Facebook.


“For more than 90 years, the SSRC has cultivated high quality research around the globe, guided by the ideals of scientific openness and independence, and the belief that the fulfillment of justice, prosperity, and democracy require a deeper understanding of complex social processes,“ said Alondra Nelson, President of the Social Science Research Council and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. “With many of these processes now online, we are excited to extend this tradition into the study of the ramifications of social media through this partnership with Social Science One.”


In recognition of the pressing nature of this subject matter, Social Science One, separate from Facebook and SSRC, is also introducing a new “peer pre-review” service for academics writing papers with the data made available through this partnership.  Peer pre-review -- which takes place immediately after the first draft of papers are written -- provides scholars studying this vanguard area of research advice and feedback from experienced academics in advance of journal peer review in the hopes of shortening time to publication.