That’s the idea behind the Stanford Internet Observatory, part of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center where Stamos is a visiting professor. Founded with a $5 million donation from Craigslist creator Craig Newmark, the Internet Observatory aspires to be a central outlet for the study of all manner of internet abuse, assembling for visiting researchers the necessary machine learning tools, big data analysts, and perhaps most importantly, access to major tech platforms’ user data — a key to the project that may hinge on which tech firms cooperate and to what degree.
“Misinformation is not just a computer science problem. It’s a problem that brings in political science, sociology, psychology,” Stamos says. “Part of the idea of the Internet Observatory is to build a place for these people to work together, and we want to build the infrastructure necessary to allow all the different parts of the political and social sciences to study what’s happening online.” Stamos says the observatory is currently negotiating with tech firms — he names Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit as examples — that it hopes will offer access to user data via API in real time and in historical archives. The observatory will then share that access with social scientists who might have a specific research project but lack the connections or resources to grapple with the immensity of the data involved.