It might sound strange for a company to pay its customers to stop using its service. But that’s what Facebook is looking to do for a select group of volunteers willing to give up access to social media in the weeks leading up to the U.S. presidential election.
Facebook is partnering with external researchers to investigate how social media may affect how people vote and, ultimately, the outcome of a national election.
In late August, Facebook made an announcement about the study, which is being conducted by a team of 17 independent researchers with expertise in a range of fields including elections, democracy and social media.
The role of social media in elections came to the fore following the 2016 presidential election, when foreign interests infiltrated services such as Facebook in an attempt to sway citizen’s votes.
“The U.S. elections in 2016 exposed the risk of social media being abused to interfere in elections, and misinformation and political polarization clearly play out on social media platforms too,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of global affairs and communications, in Facebook’s announcement about the initiative. This election year, in an effort toward more transparency, and to take a closer look at the impact of social media on voting, Facebook decided to participate in this study.
According to Reuters, Facebook hopes between 200,000 and 400,000 people will agree to be involved with the study, which starts at the end of September.
Shortly after the study announcement, some social media users received invitations to participate in the 2020 Election Research Project. In exchange for shutting down their Facebook or Instagram accounts and answering some research questions, they would be paid for their participation in the study.
Washington Post reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin shared her survey invitation from Instagram, which outlined the process, on Twitter:
So Facebook is now going to pay people to deactivate their IG and FB accounts before Election Day. It’s part of the research experiment announced Monday but WOW. This notice went out this week. pic.twitter.com/tV7DAw8F5I
— Elizabeth Dwoskin (@lizzadwoskin) September 3, 2020
The Verge explained that the survey asked users how much they’d be willing to receive to deactivate their account. The options on the survey were $10, $15 or $20 per week, for up to six weeks. “Please note, your responses below are for research purposes only,” it reads. “The rows you check will not affect how much you are offered.”
Initial results from the study will be available by mid-2021, according to Facebook estimates.
“This research won’t settle every debate about social media and democracy, but we hope and expect the researchers will advance society’s understanding of the intersection of technology and democracy,” Clegg said in Facebook’s announcement.