Following an August report on the existence of Truthy, a strange university research project that uses computer algorithms to track Internet memes and Twitter trends, the FCC’s conservative representative began warning that the project amounted to an Orwellian attempt by the government to define and do something about the spread of misinformation.
Now Truthy has changed its focus, deleting the part of its site that formerly purported to track political themes in social media. Up until that time, the #tcot Twitter hashtag had reportedly been the most active of all the politically inclined Internet signifiers the project had been monitoring.
The Washington Free Beacon, which first reported on the existence of the Truthy project in late August, wrote Friday that Truthy hasn’t just deleted (from public view, anyway) the fruits of its political tracking, but that its researchers have also decided they won’t be talking to The Washington Free Beacon anymore.
From Friday’s report:
The National Science Foundation (NSF) project designed to track “misinformation” on Twitter has removed portions of its website that monitored political users, including conservatives who used the “tcot” hashtag.
… Screenshots taken by the Free Beacon in August show the site in its previous form, where it monitored hundreds of conservative Twitter users when they used #tcot. The site recorded the number of retweets, mentions, partisanship of the user, “sentiment,” and language of the tweets.
… The Free Beacon asked Truthy’s head researcher Filippo Menczer, a professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University, why these portions have been deleted. Menczer first said that truthy.indiana.edu is not the Truthy project website, and the changes were a result of updates that happen from “time to time.”
… The Free Beacon also asked Menczer why detecting “hate speech” was included in the original grant proposal, and how he defines the term. Menczer declined to offer his definition.
“You are referring to a sentence from the broader impact section of the abstract of the grant proposal submitted to NSF in 2010,” he said. “Taken out of its proper context, that sentence can be quite misleading. That passage refers to a proposed public and open web service to allow anyone to access information and visualizations about how memes propagate through social media.”
Menczer said the detecting hate speech line originates from when they were applying for the grant and the NSF asked the researchers to speculate potential uses for the project.
… After sending additional follow up questions as to why the site was only recently changed given that Menczer said the research was conducted four years ago, the university said that they will no longer be taking inquiries from the Free Beacon.
… “I also wanted to let you know that we will have no further comment to you on this project or the work of our faculty members in this area,” [Mark] Land [the Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Indiana University] said.
If all that sounds convoluted, it is. There’s no way to know whether the government-funded researchers are still tracking the (conservative-dominated) political Internet for evidence of hate speech or “social pollution” — only that it has removed any evidence of such monitoring from its public Web pages.
It’s also interesting to note that researchers saw the value of pursuing online “hate speech” — speech it never bothers to define — as a decisive factor in enticing the government to award the project nearly $1 million in grant funds.
For much more, visit the story at The Washington Free Beacon.