Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some Truth about Truthy

by Gary Berg-Cross

Republican FCC member Ajit Pai had an Op-Ed in the Washington Post the other day (10/18/2014 _ called  'Truthy' project is unworthy of tax dollars. Essentially this seemed to me to be something of an unjustified and/or confused attack on a bit of NSF funded research.  Here is the way the posting started off:

If you take to Twitter to express your views on a hot-button issue, does the government have an interest in deciding whether you are spreading "misinformation"? If you tweet your support for a candidate in the November elections, should taxpayer money be used to monitor your speech and evaluate your "partisanship"?

Sounds ominous and Ajit went on to warn of NSF funding an Indiana University project to “collect and analyze your Twitter data.”  It's called Truthy and you can check out the site yourself.

What analysis do we find there? Well the aim is to detect what the researchers deem "social pollution" and to study what they call "social epidemics," including how memes -- ideas that spread throughout pop culture -- propagate. I think that Ajit alarm bells went off because the types of social pollution targeting included "Political smears," (aka "astroturfing") and other forms of "misinformation."  To Ajit this effort might be the beginning of a government effort to monitor and control social media.

Really he may been building on a scare rumor scary seems to have started with a discredited and disingenuous article at the Daily Beacon. . As noted in the Columbia Journalism ReviewConservative media’s reaction to an Indiana University project shows how shoddy information can quickly become an online narrative.”  And we actually know, due to analytic studies how the rumor meme spread:

The Free Beacon’s article was shared about 4,000 times on Twitter and 10,000 times on Facebook, according to Muck Rack analytics. It was crossposted on the next day, garnering an additional 2,000 shares on Twitter and 15,000 shares on Facebook. And it was quickly picked up by a handful of other prominent right-wing websites, becoming fodder for paranoia-inducing analyses by The Week, Reason, and “Other blogs twisted the meme and mutated the meme until it became completely outlandish,” Menczer said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can say to change that.”  - See more at:

I like knowing something about this meme contagion.  Groups that get smeared unjustly and are interested in the truth can profit know transparency.  If you go to the site you can see and read about different types of social networks and patterns. 
Social Network

Really, one thinks of outlets like the Drudge Report that have been accused of planting stories and in other conservative media. And indeed
Twitter Spam
campaign or partisan groups tweeting under the guise of grassroots activity.  Seems worth knowing and the Truthy study does not look only at conservative sources it looks at liberal ones to.

I was annoyed enough by the lack of good arguments in Ajit’s article to send a letter to WAPO which was later published as this:

It is important to remember that the study is by the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research. While it is government-funded, it is not a government project. The study aims to understand Twitter activity, such as how sentiments change over time in response to events, including political ones. Its results are published
on its Web site.

Truthy is not aimed at controlling tweets. It analyzes tweets to determine things such as, "Who are the most influential users and which are most popular over time?" It analyzes both liberal and conservative political issues and seeks to show how information spreads in the social network.

Seems like something the public would like to know."

Indeed invisible influence peddlers may be the ones who should be worried here.

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