March 14, 2024

By Rebekah Tromble, Josephine Lukito, Megan Brown, Kaicheng Yang and Brandi Geurkink

In a year of more than 70 global elections, the need for independent researchers to have access to social media data has never been greater. That’s why the Coalition for Independent Technology Research and George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics (IDDP) are launching a new project aimed at auditing the state of researcher access to data—and we need your help.

In 2022, the European Union passed the Digital Services Act (DSA), a groundbreaking regulation that aims to create a safer digital space in which the fundamental rights of all users of digital services are protected. The DSA does this in part by requiring very large online platforms to be more transparent and make data available to the public and to independent researchers who study the societal impacts of these platforms. Advocates in the EU and beyond have applauded these transparency provisions in the DSA, hoping that the law will finally enable the research community to look “under the hood” of platforms and conduct essential investigations into how digital platforms are shaping our societies.

But laws are only as good as their enforcement, which is why our work aims to provide independent, objective information to platforms, policymakers and the public about how well the data access tools being released by platforms are serving the research community, and the areas where they are falling short.

We are actively seeking support from researchers in the Coalition and the broader research community to participate in the DSA Data Access Audit. Regardless of where you live, where you work, or whether or not you’ve applied for access already—if you work with social media data in some way, we need to hear from you. Please fill out our survey here.

Building on IDDP’s ongoing work monitoring platform compliance with the DSA, our audit aims to leverage the diverse experiences of more than 300 researchers in the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, including people working within academic institutions, nonprofits, media organizations and outside of formal institutional bounds. This collaborative approach will allow us to gauge the limitations and successes of the tools and programs that very large online platforms are providing under the DSA and to provide evidence-based policy recommendations about how researcher access could be improved.

Last summer, the Coalition, IDDP, the Mozilla Foundation and other partners submitted policy recommendations to the European Commission about how the data access provisions of the DSA should be implemented. These recommendations emphasized the importance of usability, accessibility, and inclusivity of data tools for all researchers and underscored the need for platforms to prioritize diversity, fairness, equality and timeliness in permissions and access. Nearly one year on from submitting these recommendations, we must now investigate whether the law’s ambitions align with the reality of independent researchers in the field.

Please fill out our survey here to participate in the DSA Data Access Audit and help us spread the word—together, we can pave the way for a more transparent and accessible digital landscape where the power to study technology’s impact on our lives is possible for the many, not the few.