Paul L. Caron
Dean




Friday, June 22, 2018

Facebook Makes It Rain For Academics, $25,000 At A Time

Facebook (2016)Bloomberg, If You’re A Facebook User, You’re Also a Research Subject:

The professor was incredulous. David Craig had been studying the rise of entertainment on social media for several years when a Facebook Inc. employee he didn’t know emailed him last December, asking about his research. “I thought I was being pumped,” Craig said. The company flew him to Menlo Park and offered him $25,000 to fund his ongoing projects, with no obligation to do anything in return. This was definitely not normal, but after checking with his school, University of Southern California, Craig took the gift. “Hell, yes, it was generous to get an out-off-the-blue offer to support our work, with no strings,” he said. “It’s not all so black and white that they are villains.”

Other academics got these gifts, too. One, who said she had $25,000 deposited in her research account recently without signing a single document, spoke to a reporter hoping maybe the journalist could help explain it. Another professor said one of his former students got an unsolicited monetary offer from Facebook, and he had to assure the recipient it wasn’t a scam. The professor surmised that Facebook uses the gifts as a low-cost way to build connections that could lead to closer collaboration later. He also thinks Facebook “happily lives in the ambiguity” of the unusual arrangement. If researchers truly understood that the funding has no strings, “people would feel less obligated to interact with them,” he said.

The free gifts are just one of the little-known and complicated ways Facebook works with academic researchers. For scholars, the scale of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users provides an irresistible way to investigate how human nature may play out on, and be shaped by, the social network. For Facebook, the motivations to work with outside academics are far thornier, and it’s Facebook that decides who gets access to its data to examine its impact on society. ..

Other social networks have smaller research ambitions, but have tried more open approaches. This spring, Twitter Inc.  asked for proposals to measure the health of conversations on its platform, and Microsoft Corp.’s LinkedIn is running a multi-year program to have researchers use its data to understand how to improve the economic opportunities of workers. Facebook has issued public calls for technical research, but until the past few months, hasn’t done so for social sciences. Yet it has solicited in that area, albeit quietly: Last summer, one scholarly association begged discretion when sharing information on a Facebook pilot project to study tech’s impact in developing economies. Its email read, “Facebook is not widely publicizing the program.”

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2018/06/facebook-makes-it-rain-for-academics-25000-at-a-time.html

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Comments

I'm skeptical if this is a gift under sec 102.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jun 23, 2018 4:36:34 AM