Q: Is Facebook planning to give Charles and David Koch “unprecedented access” to users’ personal information?
A: No. A story making that claim misrepresents a research initiative that is being funded by seven organizations including the Charles Koch Foundation.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days this week on Capitol Hill answering questions from Congress amid widespread concerns about the company’s ability to protect users’ personal information.
What he hasn’t done, as a story shared on social media this week claims, is decide “simply to give our data to different conservative political operatives,” including the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Headlined “Facebook Will Give Koch Brothers ‘Unprecedented Access’ to Our Personal Information,” the story was published April 9 on the website gritpost.com, which bills its work as “real news for the working class.” The same story was also published April 11 on allagainsttrump.com. Facebook users flagged the posts as potentially false.
Both the headline and story misrepresent a recently announced research initiative that will bring together scholars to examine how the social media giant impacts elections and democracy. Those involved say the endeavor is momentous because it marks the first time Facebook will provide access to its proprietary data to independent researchers, who without such information face “significant research gaps.”
The Charles Koch Foundation (not the “Charles and David Koch Foundation,” as the story says) is indeed one of several groups helping to finance that endeavor. The others include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; Democracy Fund; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Laura and John Arnold Foundation; and Omidyar Network.
But Vidya Krishnamurthy, a spokeswoman for the Hewlett Foundation, told FactCheck.org in an email that the story “is false – the funders will NOT have access to the data.”
Krishnamurthy pointed us to a “frequently asked questions” page about the research on the website of the nonpartisan Social Science Research Council, which will manage the peer-review process and proposal selection for the project, dubbed the Social Data Initiative.
That page says “funders are supporting an independent process and independent research; they will not have access to data.”
“Facebook and the funders will have no say in the selection of research proposals or the publication of the research findings,” it adds. “An independent steering committee of scholars will create the decision-making criteria and research agenda and the SSRC will oversee the peer review process.”
The council also explains that “only anonymized Facebook data will be shared” with researchers, “although the specific types of data are to be determined.” Data will come from Facebook and possibly from other sources, such as surveys or focus groups, it says.
Grit Post did not respond to an inquiry from FactCheck.org about the story.
Update, April 14: Two days after we published our story, Grit Post responded to our inquiry.
“After further review by our editorial team, we have chosen to retract the story,” Grit Post told us in an email, saying it “did not meet with our editorial standards.”
The website took down the story and apologized to its readers. “We apologize for any potential confusion to our readers,” it told us. “Grit Post strives to be as factual and as accurate as possible in its reporting.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Benac, Nancy. “Who are the Koch brothers?” Associated Press. 28 Jan 2015.
“Hewlett, Knight, Koch foundations, with other funders, will support independent research on Facebook’s role in elections and democracy.” Press release. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 9 Apr 2018.
Kivel, Katelyn. “Facebook Will Give Koch Brothers ‘Unprecedented Access’ to Our Personal Information.” Gritpost.com. 9 Apr 2018.
Krishnamurthy, Vidya. Director of communications, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 11 Apr 2018.
“Social Data Initiative.” Social Science Research Council. Accessed 11 Apr 2018.