Facebook is paying people up to $120 not to use Facebook and Instagram ahead of the 2020 election in November.
The paid leave from its platforms is part of research that the powerful social media giant says it is conducting "to better understand the impact of Facebook and Instagram on key political attitudes and behaviors during the US 2020 elections ... It will examine the impact of how people interact with our products."
Facebook says it is working with 17 independent researchers in the fields of elections, democracy and social media in the study. The groups represent universities including NYU, UNC, Stanford, Dartmouth, Texas and others that are not compensated by Facebook in the study. But it is paying the subjects of the study.
On Twitter Liz Bourgeois said paying compensation for study subjects is "fairly standard for this type of academic research."
In a FAQ about the study, Facebook said approximately 200,000 to 400,000 people are expected to participate in the study that includes surveys and shutdowns. Bad news for those wanting to sign up though.
"Representative, scientific samples of people in the US will be selected and invited to participate in the study," Facebook said in the FAQ. "Study samples will be designed to ensure that participants mirror the diversity of the US adult population, as well as users of Facebook and Instagram."
Facebook says it, along with other social media companies have a big responsibility because the platforms are now part of the function and debate of democracy. A new documentary on Netflix, that had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah this year, highlights the dangers of social media from the people who created it.
While Facebook says its platform empowers many to express themselves, how that plays out isn't fully understood. It says:
Facebook has become a stage for democratic debate – between citizens, between candidates and voters, and for campaigners and advocacy groups to make their arguments too. Much of that is positive – raucous, often intense, but undoubtedly now part of the fabric of an open democracy.
It says to amplify what is good for democracy on social media and mitigate against what isn't, more objective, dispassionate, empirically grounded research is needed.
We need to better understand whether social media makes us more polarized as a society, or if it largely reflects the divisions that already exist; if it helps people to become better informed about politics, or less; or if it affects people’s attitudes towards government and democracy, including whether and how they vote.
It says the guiding principals of the study are independence, transparency and consent.
The study was announced Aug. 31, but a USA Today article about it brought it to further attention.