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After the ‘APIcalypse’: social media platforms and their fight against critical scholarly research

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In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, social media platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter have severely restricted access to platform data via their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This has had a particularly critical effect on the ability of social media researchers to investigate phenomena such as abuse, hate speech, trolling, and disinformation campaigns, and to hold the platforms to account for the role that their affordances and policies might play in facilitating such dysfunction. Alternative data access frameworks, such as Facebook’s partnership with the controversial Social Science One initiative, represent an insufficient replacement for fully functional APIs, and the platform providers’ actions in responding to the Cambridge Analytica scandal raise suspicions that they have instrumentalised it to actively frustrate critical, independent, public interest scrutiny by scholars. Building on a critical review of Facebook’s public statements through its own platforms and the mainstream media, and of the scholarly responses these have drawn, this article outlines the societal implications of the ‘APIcalypse’, and reviews potential options for scholars in responding to it.
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Keywords: Application Programming Interface; Cambridge Analytica; Facebook; Social Science One; Twitter; social media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: September 19, 2019

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