May 20, 2021

The Social Media DATA Act Marks and Important Step to Improve Transparency and Protect Our Democracy

Alec Saslow

Today, Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass) introduced the Social Media DATA Act, a bill to increase transparency about online advertising by requiring large social media platforms to maintain ad libraries and direct the Federal Trade Commission to set up a stakeholder group tasked with identifying best practices for sharing social media data with researchers. 

“As social media has become a more powerful tool to influence politics, policy, and public opinion, regulations to ensure transparency have failed to keep up. As a result, social media platforms have become weaponized as tools to deceive, spread disinformation, and incite violence,” said Ann M. Ravel, Policy Director at Decode Democracy. “By requiring platforms to maintain libraries of ads and directing the FTC to provide guidance about the access researchers should have to social media data, the Social Media DATA Act would mark a significant increase in transparency to help us diagnose and fix problems while holding the platforms accountable.”

A recent analysis from Decode Democracy highlighted the challenges academics and researchers face in accessing data from Facebook, in particular.  In addition to limiting access to data for narrowly targeted ads, Facebook also places technical limits on researchers. They cannot download data, but instead have to use a Facebook-approved website to analyze it. Facebook also limits the tools that can be used by researchers.

“Our democracy suffers when the companies that control so much of the information we need refuse to be fully transparent,” added Ravel. “The Social Media DATA Act will help to create an online environment where we can better understand who is trying to impact our views on public policy and why we’re being targeted.  This bill deserves unequivocal, bipartisan support from Congress.”

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