Fighting disinformation

Why is Meta shutting down CrowdTangle, and what does it do?

Gelo Gonzales
Why is Meta shutting down CrowdTangle, and what does it do?
The tool is crucial for fact-checkers, researchers, and journalists, and will reportedly be available only until November 2022 or during the US midterm elections

MANILA, Philippines – A tool by Meta used to track viral posts called CrowdTangle will be shut down, according to a June 23 story by Bloomberg. Support for the tool has largely been removed according to the same report. 

Why it matters: The tool allows researchers to easily spot posts that are spreading, including those that spread disinformation and misinformation. 

The tool allows you to track certain pages, and see what their most viral posts are. Users can set specific times to check viral posts in the past two hours, six hours, the past year, or even custom-time posts. 

The Verge noted that one of the most popular users of the tool is the New York Times’s Kevin Roose, who is behind the popular Twitter page called Facebook’s Top 10. It tracks the 10 best-performing posts by US pages daily, which routinely show far-right pages such as Ben Shapiro and Breitbart regularly showing up in the list. Recently though, the list is no longer dominated by these far-right outlets, with items on Kpop, NPR, and CNN also showing up.

Other use cases for the tool: Bloomberg cites Jesse Littlewood, the vice president for campaigns with the US voter advocacy group Common Cause, whose volunteers use CrowdTangle to spot false narratives during elections. Littlewood said the potential loss of CrowdTangle “endangers planning for future elections.” 

It is also used in the fact-checking work being done by Agence France-Presse, Rappler, VERA Files, and other organizations in the world with fact-checking capabilities as well as human rights activists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. 

The tool also shows whether a page is gaining or losing followers.

And while Facebook regularly publishes its reports on disinformation and other viral posts, CrowdTangle allows researchers to cross-check Facebook’s published data with independent research via CrowdTangle. 

What’s going to happen: The tool will be available at least until November 2022 or during the US midterm elections. 

Bloomberg reported that Facebook will likely replace it with a “tool that mimics some of the features of CrowdTangle without giving users full access to its original capabilities.” 

Bloomberg said the company is working with its data transparency team to work on the replacement tool “in a privacy-safe way” but, so far, its efforts have fallen short. 

Why Facebook is removing the tool: Bloomberg posited, “Executives could no longer stomach supporting a feature that resulted in so many public relations crises for Meta” with journalists and researchers disputing Facebook findings with research drawn from CrowdTangle. 

Other key details: The CrowdTangle team was disbanded within Meta in the summer of 2021. Currently, only five engineers from Facebook’s integrity team in London are working to keep the tool afloat. 

Facebook originally acquired CrowdTangle in 2016. – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.