Facebook paying some users to stop using website ahead of election as part of study

Facebook paying some users to stop using website ahead of election as part of study
Posted at 10:37 AM, Sep 08, 2020

MENLO PARK, Calif. – Facebook is offering to pay some of its users to deactivate their accounts in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election.

It’s part of a new research partnership Facebook is launching to better understand the impact its website and Instagram have on key political attitudes and behaviors during U.S. elections.

“We need to better understand whether social media makes us more polarized as a society, or if it largely reflects the divisions that already exist; if it helps people to become better informed about politics, or less; or if it affects people’s attitudes towards government and democracy, including whether and how they vote,” said Facebook when it announced the study Thursday.

Facebook expects between 200,000 and 400,000 adults will choose to participate in the study. In a press release, the company said participating “could include taking part in surveys or agreeing to see a different product experience.”

The company also said, “other participants may be asked to stop using Facebook or Instagram for a period of time. A subset of participants may be asked to install an app on their devices – with their permission – that will log other digital media that they consume.”

The press release did not mention compensating participants, but screenshots tweeted out by Washington Post reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin show Instagram users being asked how much they’d need to be paid in exchange for deactivating their account in late September, for either one week or six weeks.

Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois responded to Dwoskin’s tweet, saying that anyone who chooses to opt in, whether it’s completing surveys or deactivating Facebook or Instagram for a period of time, will be compensated.

“This is fairly standard for this type of academic research,” Bourgeois wrote.

While participants and Facebook employees will be compensated, the company says it will not be paying its external research partners, a team of independent academics, two of which serve as chairs of Social Science One committees. They’re said to be experts in the fields of elections, democracy and social media.

Facebook says researchers will select and invite representative, scientific samples of people in the U.S. to participate in the study.

“Some potential participants will see a notice in Facebook or Instagram inviting them to take part in the study,” wrote Facebook. “Study samples will be designed to ensure that participants mirror the diversity of the US adult population, as well as users of Facebook and Instagram.”

Facebook said last week that the study will start soon and end in December, but it doesn’t expect to publish any findings until mid-2021 at the earliest and it doesn't expect the research to affect the outcome of the election.