Saturday, October 18, 2014

National Science Foundation Researches 'Truthiness' of Right-Wing Tweets

An excellent opinion article in today's Post from a current Federal Communication Commission member (minority, I assume): The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter. Cutting to the chase:
. . .The project is being developed by researchers at Indiana University, and its purported aim is to detect what they deem “social pollution” and to study what they call “social epidemics,” including how memes — ideas that spread throughout pop culture — propagate. What types of social pollution are they targeting? “Political smears,” so-called “astroturfing” and other forms of “misinformation.”

Named “Truthy,” after a term coined by TV host Stephen Colbert, the project claims to use a “sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex network models” to distinguish between memes that arise in an “organic manner” and those that are manipulated into being.
That should be kind of clue that the research team isn't exactly non-partisan
But there’s much more to the story. Focusing in particular on political speech, Truthy keeps track of which Twitter accounts are using hashtags such as #teaparty and #dems. It estimates users’ “partisanship.” It invites feedback on whether specific Twitter users, such as the Drudge Report, are “truthy” or “spamming.” And it evaluates whether accounts are expressing “positive” or “negative” sentiments toward other users or memes. The Truthy team says this research could be used to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”
How do they know what is "truthy" and what is spamming? I assume Steven Colbert costs too much to be a resource for a mere NSF  project. I guess they just get have to use their own judgement. But I'm sure it's OK because they're objective scientists (well, social scientists, which isn't quite the same).
Some possible hints as to Truthy’s real motives emerge in a 2012 paper by the project’s leaders, in which they wrote ominously of a “highly-active, densely-interconnected constituency of right-leaning users using [Twitter] to further their political views.”
That needs investigation, and intervention, like the IRS did with the Tea Party.

The Obama administration has even politicized the National Science Foundation.

No comments:

Post a Comment