Meta reportedly intends to shut down its virus news tracker CrowdTangle

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One thing researchers have used to track the spread of viral stories on Facebook — including those that spread misinformation — is a tool Meta has called CrowdTangle. Based on anonymous sources, Bloomberg reports what many suspected – that Facebook has largely removed developer support for CrowdTangle and is considering shutting down the tool.

Removing CrowdTangle would remove access that people like Kevin Roose have used to view data showing high engagement with right-wing news sources on Facebook, listing results that sometimes appear to contradict official reports curated by Facebook . In a article from last July The New York Times, Roose described internal “data wars” over how much information the company should release, with CrowdTangle founder and CEO Brandon Silverman saying he should share more data. Silverman left the company in October 2021.

“What data does CrowdTangle track?”

CrowdTangle is a public information tool from Facebook that helps editors, journalists, researchers, fact checkers, and more track, analyze, and report on what’s happening on social media. We do this by making public content on popular pages, groups, Instagram accounts and subreddits more discoverable, and engagement data on that content (i.e. shares, views, comments and reactions) are easy to sort on a large scale. CrowdTangle does not track regular Facebook profile content.

In a Twitter threadFacebook News Feed manager John Hegeman argued that Roose Top 10 Daily Lists (compiled based on data from CrowdTangle) shows accurate engagement data but “doesn’t represent what most people see on FB”. He claims a better way to prove this would be to use data showing which posts have the greatest reach, but the company typically doesn’t share this data directly.

When Facebook bought CrowdTangle in 2016, it said the tool could help publishers “uncover important stories, measure their social performance, and identify influencers.” It tracks how stories perform on other networks, including Instagram and Twitter. The Bloomberg report cites how voter advocacy group Common Cause used it to find real-time misinformation that it flagged to Twitter and Facebook for removal.

Today’s report says Meta started a formal process to shut down the tool in February, but halted it due to pressure from the EU’s Digital Services Act. It is now said to be on track for an “eventual” shutdown, with Facebook engineers already assigned to the task. A company spokesperson said Bloomberg that CrowdTangle would remain active at least until this year’s midterm elections and claimed that Meta plans to provide “even more valuable” tools to researchers.

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