“Truthy”: The Taxpayer-Funded Speech Monitoring and Suppression Project, and Net Neutrality

“Truthy”: The Taxpayer-Funded Speech Monitoring and Suppression Project, and Net Neutrality

Looks like another attempt at speech suppression has been underway, and again it is being funded by the American taxpayer. On Monday, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to the head of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. France A. Cordova, demanding information about the nearly $1 million spent on the “Truthy” data-mining project that monitors political speech on Twitter. Since its launch in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections, and in light of the push for government regulation of the internet guised as “net neutrality”, many questions have arisen around the project’s activities.


The letter begins:

Dear Dr. Cordova:

I am concerned that the National Science Foundation (NSF)-approved grant, “ICES: Large Meme Diffusion Through Mass Social Media” (Award #1101703), was intended to create standards for online political discussion.  According to the grant abstract published on the NSF website, the research team planned to:

“….create a web service open to the public for monitoring trends, bursts, and suspicious memes. 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 web service developed under the grant was named “Truthy”, a term borrowed from political satirist Stephen Colbert. Truthy was used to target political messages and commentary connected to “Tea Party”, “GOP” and “conservative”.

While some have argued that Truthy could be used to better understand things like disaster communication or to assist law enforcement, instead it appears Truthy focused on examples of “false and misleading ideas, hate speech, and subversive propaganda” communicated by conservative groups.  Whether by amazing coincidence or on purpose, it appears that several social media accounts that were highlighted by Truthy were subsequently terminated by the owners of the social media platforms, effectively muzzling the political free speech of the targeted individuals and groups.

“False and misleading ideas”, “hate speech” and “subversive propaganda”, according to whom?  Michelle Malkin cuts to the chase:

“Truthy” Data-Mining Project Targets Conservatives

This week, President Obama launched a prominent social media campaign on behalf of “net neutrality” and urged the FCC to “keep the Internet free and open.”

The man has gall.

This is the same speech-squelcher in chief whose administration snooped on reporters; vengefully audited tea party pro-life activists and conservative election watchdogs and slow-walked the probe into the IRS witch hunt against them; entertained a government scheme to monitor story selection in TV newsrooms; and forked over $1 million to a researcher building a Twitter-snooping database.

On Monday, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, requested that the National Science Foundation send him all information about how and why the taxpayer-subsidized “Truthy” data-mining project came into existence. Its lead researcher is Filippo Menczer — professor of informatics and computer science and the director of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing — who is now on sabbatical at Yahoo! Labs.

Menczer and Indiana University vehemently deny that Truthy is a “political watchdog,” a “government probe of social media,” “an attempt to suppress free speech or limit political speech or develop standards for online political speech,” “a way to define “misinformation,” a partisan political effort, “a system targeting political messages and commentary connected to conservative groups,” “a mechanism to terminate any social media accounts,” or “a database tracking hate speech.”

But Menczer himself admits the project arose after he learned about a conservative Twitter bomb campaign against failed Senate Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in 2010. His information-gathering system bears liberal comedian Stephen Colbert’s neologism “truthy.” And the Washington Free Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington reports that Menczer “proclaims his support for numerous progressive advocacy groups, including President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action, Moveon.org, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International and True Majority.”

In presentations to academic groups, Menczer has specifically highlighted his team’s research on conservative groups, individuals and hashtags. I’ve seen it. At Harvard University’s “Truthiness Conference” in March 2012, for example, he showed his audience the results of monitoring and mapping the hashtag “#obamacare” and singled out the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation for using it. His government-funded database mined information on who was retweeting #obamacare-labeled tweets and pinpointed “patterns of propagation.”

Continue Reading at:  Western Journalism



As Rep. Lamar Smith also wrote in the letter:

“The committee and taxpayers deserve to know how NSF decided to award a large grant for a project that proposed to develop standards for online political speech and to apply those standards through development of a website that targeted conservative political comments.” 

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