House Science Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Social Media Data Research

On September 28, the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight within the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) held a hearing on social media platforms, data, and research focused on misinformation spread. Witnesses at the hearing included Professor and Interim Dean at Khoury College of Computer Sciences at Northeastern University Dr. Alan Mislove; Ph.D. Candidate and Co-Director of Cybersecurity for Democracy at New York University Laura Edelson; and Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Department of Sociology Dr. Kevin Leicht.

Subcommittee Chair Bill Foster (D-IL), Ranking Member Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Full Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) all expressed great concern about the role of social media algorithms in spreading misinformation and shared support for increasing access for researchers to study social media platforms. Specifically, Facebook was singled out by witnesses as a prime example of a “black box” social media platform that hinders research being conducted on their platform, hides algorithmic practices, and uses moderation tools on extremist content in an inconsistent manner. Members questioned the witnesses on a wide variety of topics including data sharing tools such as Facebook’s CrowdTangle and Twitter’s Firehose API, ethical practices that other social media platforms have used, the accessibility of data for researchers on social media, ethical issues with social media platform business models, and the potential for legislative action regarding social media data. Witness testimonies and a recording of the hearing are available on the SST Committee website.


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