The federal government is sponsoring a creepy social media research project: The aim is to produce a database of politically disfavored tweets, misinformation, and "other social pollution." The grant for the project—made by the National Science Foundation to Indiana University—was discovered by The Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington, who writes:
|Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert started the idea|
of "Truthy" as satire. It has now become reality
"The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online."The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”
The university has received $919,917 so far for the project.
The fact that the project is called Truthy—the word Stephen Colbert used back in 2005 to lambaste Republicans' distortions of facts—is the first hint about its political leanings. The next comes courtesy of the project's explanation on its own website:
"We also plan to use Truthy to detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution. While the vast majority of memes arise in a perfectly organic manner, driven by the complex mechanisms of life on the Web, some are engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns. Truthy uses a sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex networks models. To train our algorithms, we leverage crowdsourcing: we rely on users like you to flag injections of forged grass-roots activity. Therefore, click on the Truthy button when you see a suspicious meme!"
The above passage reeks of a people-who-disagree-with-me-are-liars perspective. What counts as a political smear, and why do smears automatically count as social pollution? What's the difference between an organic and inorganic meme? Is "forged grass-roots activity" just a synonym for "Koch stuff"?According to the federal grant's abstract: "This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”
The Indiana professor who is leading the project, Filippo Menczer, says the project is not meant to suppress free speech and does not track "hate speech." Yet the grant specifically says the project is for the purposing of monitoring "hate speech and subversive propaganda." Further, the hashtags the project identifies as "far right" or "polarizing" to include: #gop2012, #Israel, #foxnews, #constitution, #patriots, and #abortion.
According to Washington Free Beacon, on his personal website Prof. Menczer expresses his support for numerous progressive groups, including President Obama’s Organizing for Action, Moveon.org, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and True Majority.
Some of the information for this story came from Fox News Insider's story: '1984' in 2014? Fed Gov't Funds 'Truthy' Database to Monitor Hate Speech, Suspicious Memes