Have you ever wondered how algorithms are affecting the spread of misinformation on social media? There’s a project that was designed with that question in mind. The Citizen Browser Project is an initiative designed to measure how disinformation travels across social media platforms over time.
At the center of The Citizen Browser Project is a custom web browser designed by The Markup to audit the algorithms that social media platforms use to determine what information they serve their users, what news and narratives are amplified or suppressed, and which online communities those users are encouraged to join. Initially, the browser will be implemented to glean data from Facebook and YouTube.
A nationally representative panel of 1,200 people will be paid to install the custom web browser on their desktops, which allows them to share real-time data directly from their Facebook and YouTube accounts with The Markup. Data collected from this panel will form statistically valid samples of the American population across age, race, gender, geography, and political affiliation, which will lead to important insights about how Facebook’s and YouTube’s algorithms operate.
To protect the panel’s privacy, The Markup will remove personally identifiable information collected by the panel and discard it, only using the remaining redacted data in its analyses.
Personally, I find this to be very interesting. It isn’t something I can participate in, because I stopped using Facebook years ago and refuse to go back to it. That said, people who use both Facebook and YouTube could choose to participate in the The Citizen Browser Project – and get paid to do so.
I’ve always believed that we need more than a promise from social media companies that they are doing their best to prevent the spread of misinformation. We need an outside source, like The Citizen Browser Project, to collect data that will show not only how much misinformation is on those platforms, but how it the algorithms of the platforms are enabling the spread of misinformation.