Collaboration Designed to Audit Facebook’s Impact on the 2021 German Federal Election
New York and Munich, 27 July 2021 — The Markup, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates how the world’s most powerful institutions are reshaping society with technology, today announced a partnership with Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s most award-winning and far-reaching daily newspapers, to launch The Citizen Browser Project in Germany. This international expansion of the groundbreaking investigative initiative will empower Süddeutsche Zeitung’s team to monitor, analyze, and report on Facebook’s impact on the 2021 German federal election this September.
The Markup’s team of journalism-trained engineers built Citizen Browser as a forensic tool to audit Facebook’s hidden algorithms and reveal how they operate in real time. Through a custom browser installed on their desktops by a panel of citizens who opt to share real-time data directly from their Facebook accounts, this initiative reveals what information Facebook’s algorithms serve users and measures how disinformation travels across the platform over time. Given the social network’s sweeping societal reach, the news and narratives that it amplifies or suppresses and the online communities that it fosters can have a material effect on public opinion and society itself.
As part of this effort, The Markup is recruiting a broad base of panelists from across Germany in order to better understand how age, race, gender, geography, and political affiliation play into Facebook’s algorithmic design. To protect the panel’s privacy, The Markup removes personally identifiable information collected by the panelists and discards it, using only the remaining redacted data in its analyses.
Since launching Citizen Browser in the U.S. last October, The Markup has published an ongoing series of investigations uncovering a wide array of important revelations about Facebook and its algorithms, including how official public health information about COVID-19 has been reaching fewer Black people on the platform, how the company continued to recommend political groups to users leading up the Jan. 6 Capitol riots despite promises not to, and how financial services companies have been targeting ads by restricted age groups, a practice that violates Facebook’s antidiscrimination policies.
“We’re thrilled to team up with one of Europe’s most respected and accomplished newsrooms in service of innovative public service investigations that will lead to greater transparency and heightened accountability,” said The Markup’s editor-in-chief, Julia Angwin. “Citizen Browser is a thousand-watt light exposing some of Facebook’s most shadowy hidden corners. We trust the Süddeutsche Zeitung team will use it to help Germany gain a clearer picture of the platform’s role in politics today.”
This initiative to expand The Citizen Browser Project into Germany is being supported through financial commitments from Reset, The NetGain Partnership, and the Rudolf Augstein Foundation. Additional support for Citizen Browser since its launch has come from Omidyar Foundation, the Trusted Elections Fund, and the John Sperling Foundation.
“Facebook is a global company, and communities around the world deserve to know how corporate choices influence their lives,” said Nabiha Syed, president of The Markup. “We are incredibly grateful to our funders for helping us investigate how technology is remaking society beyond the United States.”
About The Markup
The Markup is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society. We are a new kind of media organization, staffed with an unparalleled roster of quantitative journalists who pursue meaningful, data-driven investigations. Whenever possible, we will publish the underlying datasets and code that we use in our investigations, as well as a detailed methodology describing the data, its provenance and the statistical techniques used in our analysis. We invite academics, journalists, policymakers, consumer activists, and community organizers to engage with our findings.
About Süddeutsche Zeitung
Headquartered in Munich, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) is one of Germany’s leading newspapers. It is characterized by opinionated and independent journalism.. SZ has a total readership of 1.27 million daily. The website SZ.de reaches around 17 million stationary and/or mobile unique users monthly. The Süddeutsche Zeitung has won a number of prestigious awards for its research work. Its team has cooperated with other media organizations on a number of projects, including Offshore Leaks, the Panama Papers, and most recently the Pegasus Project.