Despite social media platforms’ central role in society, there is strikingly little insight into how they actually operate. Yet for journalists and academics hoping to conduct public-interest research on the platforms, Knight Institute’s Ramya Krishnan says the threat of legal liability looms.

“We’ve seen companies like Facebook use their terms of service as a cudgel against public interest research,” the Knight Institute staff attorney told a Jan. 19 online panel co-sponsored by the Institute, NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy, and Mozilla

For that reason, a legal “safe harbor” for such research is essential, said Krishnan, who noted that a just-released Institute policy paper proposes legal protections for certain research and newsgathering projects focused on platforms.

Another important means of combating problems around the platforms—which Krishnan said include dis- and misinformation, political polarization, and centralization of power—is transparency. 

“We can’t let these companies be the gatekeepers to information and research about how they work and what impact they’re having on us,” she said.“We need Congress to step in to protect the public interest by passing transparency legislation now.”

Read the Knight Institute’s policy paper, A Safe Harbor for Platform Research. And read the proposal from Edelson and others for a standard for universal digital ad transparency

Click the video below to view the full "Pursuing Platform Transparency in 2022" program, whose speakers include Marshall Erwin and Xavier Harding of Mozilla, Martin Rivera of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Laura Edelson of NYU’s Cybersecurity for Democracy.