The longstanding study of media effects on democracy and elections has taken on new resonance with the rise of social media platforms, the dramatic change in the business model of traditional news media, changes in advertising infrastructure, and increasingly globalized and interconnected communications. Recent revelations about the unintended disclosure of industry data and spread of disinformation across national borders illustrate the need to better understand the impact of social media on society.

Many of the complex social, cultural, economic, and political processes that govern our lives and our decisions now occur online, but access to these data is largely restricted to private companies. The SSRC’s Social Data Initiative examines social media’s impact on society, explores questions about the responsible use of social network data, and generates insights to inform solutions.

Ongoing work at the SSRC over the past several years, including our 2018 To Secure Knowledge report, identified as a core concern the inaccessibility of the proprietary data increasingly necessary for social research. Direct collaboration with technology platforms—such as through the Social Media and Democracy Research Grants competition—provides one potential avenue for accelerating research that informs, empowers, and protects the public interest. The Social Data Initiative enacts multifaceted pathways and methods for the study of social data, in order to build robust research on technology and society.

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