Meta’s Content Library provides researchers with digital ‘clean room’ for data access

The company says it is trying to offer pathways to support independent research.


Meta announced that it is rolling out new tools that will give eligible researchers access to data from its social media apps Facebook and Instagram in an effort to “support public interest research.” The Meta Content Library and Content Library API tools, which were previously made available for beta testing, will share real-time information about the user-generated content including metrics like the number of times a Reel on Instagram is viewed or the amount of posts that are made on a Facebook page.

The Meta Content Library will exist on the web through a controlled-access "clean room" that prohibits the export of data. All analysis and review of the real-time content from Facebook and Instagram will be done through an API that has search capabilities. The company's data search tools will only be available for “eligible researchers and professionals” who will need to be pre-approved. Research groups or individuals seeking to gain access to Meta’s data will need to fill out an application through a form and provide a detailed explanation about the mission of the research project in question and who is involved. Final approval is subject to an independent review by the ICPSR. Once granted access to the API, Meta says there are no fees associated with access to the Content Library.

The new tools, while they may be forging a pathway for data access, are similar to — and in some ways more limited than — what Meta has previously provided to researchers hoping to understand how content circulates on its apps. There's also every reason to be skeptical. Meta’s Open Research and Transparency team, which similarly developed a researcher API and platform, was the subject of criticism when in 2021 it was caught allegedly sending incomplete and inaccurate data to researchers. That same group of researchers at N.Y.U.’s Center for Cybersecurity later had their API access completely revoked by the company.

The new Content Library and API probably won't do much to stave off public pressure after years of backlash over how it regulates misinformation and harmful content. Meta has also been under fire for how it moderates content related to the war in Gaza and for how it plans to prevent the proliferation fake content related to the upcoming US presidential election. To top things off, Meta is currently facing a lawsuit filed by 41 states over how it allegedly harms younger users. A highly gatekept API may not be the show of goodwill the company needs to convince regulators it has the public's best interest at heart.