House Committee Wants Answers on Tax-Payer Funded Initiative that Targeted Political Commentary on Twitter

In an era of digital deception, scientists at Indiana University are using Twitter to investigate the nature of truth, lies and politics.
In an era of digital deception, scientists at Indiana University are using Twitter to investigate the nature of truth, lies and politics.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent a letter to the head of the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Monday, demanding answers about the origins of the nearly $1 million taxpayer-funded project to track “misinformation” on Twitter.

The Truthy project, being conducted by researchers at Indiana University, is under investigation for targeting political commentary on Twitter. The project monitors “suspicious memes,” “false and misleading ideas,” and “hate speech,” with a goal of one day being able to automatically detect false rumors on the social media platform.

The web service has been used to track tweets using hashtags such as #tcot (Top Conservatives on Twitter), and was successful in getting accounts associated with conservatives suspended, according to a 2012 book co-authored by the project’s lead researcher, Filippo Menczer, a professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University.

Menczer has also said that Truthy monitored tweets using #p2 (Progressive 2.0), but did not discuss any examples of getting liberal accounts suspended in his book.

“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,” wrote Chairman Lamar Smith (R., Texas) in a letter to NSF Director France Cordova.

“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,” he said.

Smith is asking for the original application for the study, and “every internal and external e-mail, letter, memorandum, record, note, text message or other document” sent or received by the NSF about Truthy since the study began in 2011.

Smith’s letter references a publication co-written by Menczer which explains how the project was used to track tweets before the 2010-midterm elections.

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SOURCE:  
Washington Free Beacon

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