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Meta announces the end of its CrowdTangle tool before the US elections

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Apr16,2024

 Meta announces the end of its CrowdTangle tool before the US elections

France-Soir CrowdTangle, software widely used by journalists and researchers and considered “essential” for “spotting” and “analyzing disinformation”, will soon be decommissioned

CrowdTangle, a software widely used by journalists and researchers and considered “essential” for “spotting” and “analyzing disinformation”, will soon be decommissioned, announced its owner, the Meta group. The Palo Alto firm, which plans to replace CrowdTangle with a new tool, is under fire from criticism. NGOs are calling for this software to be maintained until January 2025, that is to say after the American elections, while others accuse the web giant of “regressing” in terms of transparency. If Meta has not revealed any details on the reasons for the upcoming decommissioning of its tool, speculation is rife and many attribute this decision to the fact that journalists used CrowdTangle to reveal information embarrassing for the group.< /strong>

Facebook acquired this tool in 2016. The software, whose interface is reminiscent of TweetDeck, allows you to monitor the most viral content on this social network as well as on Instagram. The initial goal is to “monitor social media content, monitor your e-reputation and easily detect trending topics”. The tool has gradually become widely used by journalists, including major media outlets, or researchers to spot fake news, particularly during the 2020 Biden-Trump elections or during the COVID pandemic.

< p>Journalists excluded?

In 2019, the Meta group revealed that it had made CrowdTangle available to civil servants during elections in certain American states. For the 2024 elections, in the United States as elsewhere, journalists will have to do without it. The parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp explains that the tool will no longer be available after August 14 and will be replaced by other software.

This is, officially, the reason given by Mark Zuckerberg's firm to justify the shutdown of the tool. Brandon Silverman, former CEO of CrowdTangle, says the new program is still under development. “This is a brand new technology that Meta still needs to build to protect the integrity of elections,” he tries to reassure. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone says for his part that the new tool will contain “more complete data” than CrowdTangle.

However, he specifies, the solution will not be updated. the provision of media, unlike academics and electoral associations who will be able to continue to use this alternative service. According to researchers, CrowdTangle's future successor will not have the same features either.

The news received mixed feedback. Non-governmental organizations and researchers are opposing such a decision. However, interpretations of this announcement differ. The Mozilla Foundation, a global non-profit NGO which believes that this announcement is not a surprise given the decline in investments in CrowdTangle, sent an open letter to Meta asking for the retention of the tool until January 2025. “The abandonment of CrowdTangle while the content library is deprived of a large part of its basic functionalities undermines the fundamental principle of transparency”, and constitutes a “direct threat” to the integrity of elections, say signatories.

“Serious regression” for transparency

For Melanie Smith, research director of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, “the removal of Access to CrowdTangle will significantly limit independent monitoring of the harm that can be caused by misinformation. In addition, “this is a serious regression for transparency on social networks”.

Meta's decision is, according to observers, part of the trend of web giants to reduce their transparency. The decommissioning of CrowdTangle would be linked to the publication, in recent months, by journalists of compromising information about the group, using precisely its tool. As an example, we cite the group's difficulty in moderating its content or the presence of pirated programs in its video game application. CrowdTangle thus made it possible, we believe, to “hold Meta responsible for the application of its own rules”.

“Meta’s decision will bar the outside world, including election integrity experts, from seeing what’s happening on Facebook and Instagram – during the biggest election year on record. This means that almost all external efforts to identify and prevent political disinformation… will be silenced. This is a direct threat to our ability to safeguard the integrity of elections,” the Mozilla Foundation continues in its letter.

It is not just about elections, in the United States- United or elsewhere, but also problematic content such as incitements to violence or harassment. In addition, remember that the Palo Alto firm, already criticized for the involvement of its platforms in human trafficking, is suspected of having facilitated illicit drug trafficking.


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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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