The Meta Kills A Critical Tool Shown at the Worst Time

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Earlier this month, Meta announced that it would be closing CrowdTangle, an analytical and transparency tool that has allowed journalists and researchers to track the spread of errors and omissions. It will expire on August 14, 2024, a few months before the US presidential election.

Meta’s move is the latest example of a technology company that has revolutionized transparency and security as the world enters the world’s biggest election year. The company says it is replacing CrowdTangle with a new one Content Library API, which will require researchers and non-profits to apply to access company data. But the Mozilla Foundation and 140 other organizations they protested last week that the new offering does not have many of the functions of CrowdTangle, asking the company to keep the original tool active until January 2025.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone joined notes on X that the crowdfunding claims are “just false,” saying that the new Library will have “a lot more information than CrowdTangle” and will be dedicated to nonprofits, academics, and polling professionals. But Meta did not answer questions about why business newsrooms, such as WIRED, should be removed.

Brandon Silverman, cofounder and former CEO of CrowdTangle, who continued to work on the tool after Facebook acquired it in 2016, says it’s time to force the platform to open up their data to outsiders. Discussions have been edited for clarity.

Victoria Elliott: CrowdTangle has become invaluable to journalists and researchers trying to hold tech companies accountable for spreading misinformation and disinformation. But it belongs to Meta. Can you talk a little bit about this conflict?

Brandon Silverman: I think there are a lot of social issues that are frustrating [New York Times columnist] Kevin Roose’s tweets that’s why they rejected CrowdTangle. I think the truth is that Facebook is moving away from news completely.

When CrowdTangle joined Facebook, they were all about news and they bought us to help the news industry. Three years later, they’re like, “We’re done with this project.” There are many responsibilities that come with hosting a news platform, especially if you are located anywhere in the world. I think they made a calculation at one point that it wasn’t worth it to do it properly.

My takeaway when I left was that if you want to do this work in a way that helps people in the way that we need, you can’t do it inside the industry—and Meta was doing more than anyone else. It is clear that we need our leaders and electors to decide what we, as a society, want and expect from the platforms and create them. [demands] legally required.

What would that look like?

I think we are at the beginning of a whole universe of good tools that are doing the job. The The European Union is sweeping the Digital Services Act it has many transparency requirements for data sharing. One of what they sometimes call CrowdTangle’s offering – it takes the right platforms to provide access to the crowd.

More than a dozen platforms now have new programs that allow outside researchers to access public content. Alibaba, TikTok, YouTube—which has been a black box forever—are also launching these apps. It has been quiet, because they don’t want many people to use it. Sometimes companies add these programs to their products but don’t make it public.

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