Facebook’s next project: American inequality

Facebook’s next project: American inequality, Nancy Scola, Politico, February 19, 2019, available here

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is quietly cracking open his company's vast trove of user data for a study on economic inequality in the U.S. — the latest sign of his efforts to reckon with divisions in American society that the social network is accused of making worse.

The study, which hasn't previously been reported, is mining the social connections among Facebook’s American users to shed light on the growing income disparity in the U.S., where the top 1 percent of households is said to control 40 percent of the country's wealth. Facebook is an incomparably rich source of information for that kind of research: By one estimate, about three of five American adults use the social network.

Now the company is making the user data available to a team led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty, a favorite among tech elites for his focus on data-driven solutions to the nation's social and economic problems. Venture capitalist J.D. Vance praised Chetty by name in his 2016 guide to Trump country, “Hillbilly Elegy,” saying his work shows how "a poor kid’s chances of rising through the ranks of America’s meritocracy were lower than most of us wanted."

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