A group of scholars and nonprofit organizations have asked web platforms to keep track of the content they’re removing during the coronavirus pandemic so they can make it available to researchers studying how online information affects public health. The signatories — including the Committee to Protect Journalists, sent an open letter to social media and content sharing services, urging them to preserve data even as they remove misinformation.
Read the full letter here:
Dear Social Media and Content-Sharing Platforms:
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe, the importance of your platforms and their real world impact has never been clearer. Your platforms are being used to communicate, assemble, research the virus, provide mutual aid, and more. We understand that many platforms have increased their reliance on automated content moderation during the pandemic, while simultaneously removing misinformation and apparently inaccurate information about COVID-19 at an unprecedented rate.
The importance of accurate information during this pandemic is clear. But knowledge about the novel coronavirus is rapidly evolving. This is also an unprecedented opportunity to study how online information flows ultimately affect health outcomes, and to evaluate the macro- and micro-level consequences of relying on automation to moderate content in a complex and evolving information environment. But such studies rely on information that your companies control–including information you are automatically blocking and removing from your services. It is essential that platforms preserve this data so that it can be made available to researchers and journalists and included in your transparency reports. The data will be invaluable to those working in public health, human rights, science and academia. It will be crucial to develop safeguards to address the privacy issues raised by new or longer data retention and by the sharing of information with third parties, but the need for immediate preservation is urgent.
We, the undersigned organizations, institutions, and researchers, urge you to:
- Immediately commit to preserving all data on content removal during the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to information about which takedowns did not receive human review, whether users tried to appeal the takedown (when that information is available), and reports that were not acted upon.
- Preserve all content that the platform is automatically blocking or removing, including individual posts, videos, images, and entire accounts.
- Produce transparency reports that include information about content blocking and removal related to COVID-19
- Provide access to this data in the future to researchers and journalists, recognizing that privacy will need to be ensured.