Meta’s expanding access to its updated Content Library and API tools, which will enable researchers to study Facebook and Instagram content, in order to uncover key usage trends and insights, and ideally help to better inform social platform policy.

Meta has always provided a level of access to researchers, enabling them to study selected usage data, though it did significantly limit its access parameters following the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018.

But now, Meta’s re-launching its data tools, which could open the door for all new kinds of research projects.

As per Meta:

Our Meta Content Library and API tools provide access to near real-time public content from Pages, Posts, Groups and Events on Facebook, as well as from creator and business accounts on Instagram. Details about the content, such as the number of reactions, shares, comments and, for the first time, post view counts are also available. Researchers can search, explore and filter that content on both a graphical User Interface (UI) or through a programmatic API.”

That’ll facilitate expanded study options, and could, in some ways, act as a replacement for certain projects which recently found themselves cut off from Twitter access, due to changes in how the company, now called ‘X’, is charging for its API tools.

Facilitating expanded Facebook and IG data could be a valuable alternative, which may enable more social study projects to continue.  

Though Meta’s update is not all altruistic. Meta also notes that the new API will enable it to meet evolving regulatory requirements, data-sharing, and transparency compliance obligations. So, in part, Meta’s updated its access tools to meet these shifts. But even so, it’s a valuable entry into Meta’s raft of user data, across two of the most used social platforms in existence.

Meta has facilitated a range of increasingly complex and valuable data studies over the years, including examinations of the links between social standing and economic opportunity, how careers run in families, new methods to map forests, improved density maps, translation tools, and more.

Though the true value of Meta’s data likely lies in studying the impacts of social media itself, and tracking how online interaction influences political shifts, impacts user mental health, etc.

That’s an element where Meta’s worked hard to counter the pervading narratives, despite a growing range of studies indicating that social media exposure has had negative impacts on many users and communities over time.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Meta partners with researchers to expand their explorations into these elements, or whether it’ll look to limit access based on certain areas of focus, in order to keep such explorations in check.

Meta says that people from qualified institutions “pursuing scientific or public interest research topics” will be able to apply for access to its updated Content and Library API through Meta research partners, starting with the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.

You can learn more about Meta’s Content Library and API tools here.