Government to Track ‘False, Misleading’ Ideas on Twitter

 

Nope, this isn’t unsettling:

The federal government is spending nearly $1 million to create an online database that will track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter.

The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online.

The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”

One G-man’s “social pollution” is another free man’s First Amendment right. The very term sounds like something out of a 1920s Italian fascist tract. And why is the federal government even deciding which ideas are “false and misleading,” let alone tracking them?

According to the project’s grant, the service “could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”

In 2004, dissent was “the highest form of patriotism.” A decade later, it’s called “subversive propaganda” and categorized as the lowest form of treason. Truthy would add a button to Twitter so that people could report their neighbors and family members for Thoughtcrime against the State.

Filippo Menczer (who sounds like an author of that 1920s Italian fascist tract) is Truthy’s lead investigator and closely affiliated with “non-partisan” groups like President Obama’s Organizing for Action, Moveon.org and Greenpeace. The software’s very name comes from ardent conservative hater Stephen Colbert.

It’s hard to denounce the more paranoid allegations of Obama’s opponents when his administration routinely goes beyond their wildest imaginings.

Members have made 37 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Yikes!…Thanks, Jon, I think.

    • #1
    • August 25, 2014 at 2:16 pm
  2. Profile photo of Frank S Contributor

    NSF reading 1984:

    “So do you think we could make this work?”

    • #2
    • August 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm
  3. Profile photo of John Davey Member

    Did they lift this thought police concept whole cloth from the end of 1982’s Pink Floyd The Wall?

    ♫There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me♫

    • #3
    • August 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm
  4. Profile photo of Tuck Inactive

    To paraphrase: The “dark night of fascism is always descending on the Republicans and yet lands only in the Democratic Party.”

    • #4
    • August 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm
  5. Profile photo of Dave Carter Contributor

    “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” ought to fry the circuits to a crispy mess.

    • #5
    • August 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm
  6. Profile photo of James Gawron Thatcher

    Jon,

    $1 million federal tax dollars placed into the hands of paranoid psychotic left wing ideologues.

    Gee, I wonder if Truthy will notice the totally insane lies that Tom Steyer is using his billions to promote.

    Between this guy and Soros the desemination of false information never had it so good.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #6
    • August 25, 2014 at 3:03 pm
  7. Profile photo of Whiskey Sam Inactive

    I’m going to have a field day with this. Time to start up the old “Joe Biden eats babies” rumor again.

    • #7
    • August 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm
  8. Profile photo of genferei Member

    I denounce the OP as an unworthy and frankly racist attempt to impede this important work, and look forward to the increase in my chocolate ration following this patriotic act. All Hail MiniTru!

    • #8
    • August 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm
  9. Profile photo of C. U. Douglas Thatcher

    I don’t know what’s worse: getting 1984 here, Brave New World on Rachel Lu’s post, or the fact that we as a nation seem to be careening headlong towards both …

    • #9
    • August 25, 2014 at 3:55 pm
  10. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    The project apparently started back in 2011 (judging by their data set for that year). So we’re talking about one or more federal grants amounting to roughly $300,000 per year. How extraordinary is a grant that size during this era of billions spent every day?

    • #10
    • August 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm
  11. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    I want that button now. It will take a while to report every tweet ever put out by @BarackObama.

    • #11
    • August 25, 2014 at 5:20 pm
  12. Profile photo of Manny Member

    And who determines what’s a political smear and what’s truth? I can’t imagine this passing the first amendment but stranger things have happened.

    • #12
    • August 25, 2014 at 5:29 pm
  13. Profile photo of John Hendrix Inactive

    From the link: The project also seeks to discover why certain Internet memes go viral and others do not. Funding is not expected to expire until June 30, 2015.

    Meaning this system is slated to be functional just in time for the 2016 election.

    • #13
    • August 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm
  14. Profile photo of Hartmann von Aue Member

    So, when does this get mentioned in Republican TV or radio ads? Or on talk radio? Or in the vaunted pages of Reason? National Review? Commentary? It strikes me as the sort of sinister action that needs to be decried in loud volume from the rooftops.

    • #14
    • August 25, 2014 at 6:49 pm
  15. Profile photo of Jules PA Member

    genferei:

    I denounce the OP as an unworthy and frankly racist attempt to impede this important work, and look forward to the increase in my chocolate ration following this patriotic act. All Hail MiniTru!

     I pushed Twitter’s new “You Lie” Truthy-Button. May I have my Reese’s now?

    Also, this post makes me think that someone (EJ Hill?) might create a satirical visual campaign on “Social Pollution 2014” as a sequel to the 70’s anti-pollution campaign with the Iron Eyes Cody paddling his canoe dow the filthy river.

    • #15
    • August 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm
  16. Profile photo of Allan Rutter Member

    What is this–Twitter Twaining Wheels to protect the delicate sensibilities of the progs from trolling, superior logic and much funnier tweets from the right? Besides, most of the “hate speech” and “social pollution” on Twitter seems to spew forth from the left and their use of random profanity macros.

    • #16
    • August 25, 2014 at 7:19 pm
  17. Profile photo of Son of Spengler Member

    Congressional Republicans need to cut funding — enough so that it hurts — for the department that approved this grant.

    • #17
    • August 25, 2014 at 7:28 pm
  18. Profile photo of Yeah...ok. Inactive

    Trouble is, the budget is 10 times greater for the department that actually starts those misleading memes.

    • #18
    • August 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm
  19. Profile photo of MJBubba Member

    Weaponizing the National Science Foundation is easy. They are already actively opposing traditionalist morals, church schools and homeschoolers, evolution deniers, climate deniers, and several parts of the coalition that mostly votes GOP.

    The IRS, FCC, EPA, and Justice have already been weaponized. The situation is dire.

    • #19
    • August 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm
  20. Profile photo of John Hendrix Inactive

    “Our data will be made available via [application programming interfaces] APIs and include information on meme propagation networks, statistical data, and relevant user and content features.”

    Background on what an “API” is: all software is comprised of a set of functions or procedures. Some of these functions or procedures are exposed to external users. These exposed functions or procedures are called “APIs” .

    Put another way, these APIs are provided so that external users can query the underlying database. In of itself this is quite orthodox because nobody in the right mind will allow outsiders low-level access to the database.

    But that said, Truthy’s developers will design these APIs so that external users can conduct queries on Truthy’s db. The design of these APIs will constrain the kinds of queries that can be conducted, the extent that data-mining can be conducted and so on.

    Hold these concepts while I switch to another line of thought: We have the technology to analyze of social networks. Our military used this kind of technology to capture Saddam Hussein.

    Hold THAT thought while I switch again: I was intrigued by the kinds of details the IRS demanded of Tea Party groups. For example, any direct or indirect communications with legislators, copies of all printed material provided at meetings, lists of speakers, requirements to name who has or will distribute materials, etc., etc. When I heard about the weirdly specific requests that involved naming Tea Party activists I thought that, if I was trying to build a right of center social network DB then this would be a good way of going about it.

    Now to bring this all together:

    1. I believe that the developers of Truthy are going to have a very massive, detailed social network db;
    2. that the raw data stored in Truthy’s db will be quietly–and nightly–uploaded to, say, the massive computer systems that will be used by the Democrats in 2016.
    3. That the data-mining supported by the public APIs will be weak-beer compared to the data-mining possibilities that can be conducted on the raw data.

    So, is Truthy’s purported mission–“detect[ing] political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution”–is just a stalking horse for Truthy’s actual purpose: a data-vacuum-cleaner–funded by our tax dollars–for loading social media data into the databases used by Democratic campaigns?

    • #20
    • August 25, 2014 at 9:46 pm
  21. Profile photo of genferei Member

    Perhaps this is the place to put this. Warning, tin-foil hat and a strong stomach required.

    • #21
    • August 26, 2014 at 2:00 am
  22. Profile photo of CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member

    genferei, where did you find this?

    • #22
    • August 26, 2014 at 4:10 am
  23. Profile photo of genferei Member

    Mama Toad:

    genferei, where did you find this?

     From the Kickstarter page. I’m not sure how I found that, to be honest. Just lucky, I guess…

    • #23
    • August 26, 2014 at 4:37 am
  24. Profile photo of Ronaldus Maximus Inactive

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:

    Nope, this isn’t unsettling:

    The federal government is spending nearly $1 million to create an online database that will track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter.

    The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online.

    The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.”
     

    So the government is creating another website? Crisis averted.

    • #24
    • August 26, 2014 at 5:24 am
  25. Profile photo of Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    OK. At the risk of understating what should realistically raise more than a few eyebrows…

      1. $1M isn’t a lot of money. Not even to fund a team of starving IU grad students.
        1. Social networks already provide robust APIs for retrieving content that isn’t explicitly marked private.
          1. There are quite nice graphoriented databases you can download and use today.
            1. Machine learning is pervasive, today (he says with a pang of guilt), and even becoming commoditized.
              1. If you’re an expert in building distributed systems and machine learning (ahem), “locate Twitter or Facebook posts whose sentiment analysis is the opposite of this set of priors” sounds like a fun evenings-and-weekends side project for a few months.

              tl;dr What’s scary about this? That the NSF is funding it? Don’t make me laugh. That social networks make your public data public? No, they don’t; you do. That unbelievably powerful database and machine learning software is there for the download? Tons of researchers in medicine and other fields benefit from this.

              No, what’s scary is that a bored geek in the private sector can easily already do this, and more, today, on a homebrew supercomputer called Amazon Web Services Free Tier. Think Project Narwhal vs. Project Orca on steroids. That’s what to be afraid of.

              • #25
              • August 26, 2014 at 5:27 am
            1. Profile photo of Manny Member

              genferei:

              Perhaps this is the place to put this. Warning, tin-foil hat and a strong stomach required.

              Great video. Shows you they think that listners are nothing but robots and don’t evaluate the content of the argument. Notice she said her dad needed “to be de-programmed.”

              • #26
              • August 26, 2014 at 5:55 am
            2. Profile photo of Western Chauvinist Member

              If I had a Twitter account, I would definitely mess with these people:

              “Barack Obama greatest president of 20th century.”

              “Pay no attention to Yellowstone super volcano. #GlobalWarmingthreat!”

              “Joe Biden graduated in top 95% of his class.”

              Oh, wait. That last one is probably true.

              • #27
              • August 26, 2014 at 6:17 am
            3. Profile photo of Son of Spengler Member

              Manny:

              genferei:

              Perhaps this is the place to put this. Warning, tin-foil hat and a strong stomach required.

              Great video. Shows you they think that listners are nothing but robots and don’t evaluate the content of the argument. Notice she said her dad needed “to be de-programmed.”

               Noam Chomsky, George Lakoff, Eric Boehlert. No epistemic closure there, nuh-uh. The whole trailer was a riot, but I got a really good laugh from seeing Noam Chomsky (!) dismiss the idea that the left has taken over the academy and the mainstream media.

              • #28
              • August 26, 2014 at 6:24 am
            4. Profile photo of Fricosis Guy Coolidge

              This project is in the Feds’ sweet spot.

              After all, who knows more about disseminating false and misleading ideas?

              • #29
              • August 26, 2014 at 6:54 am
            5. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member

              This is just the latest attempt by the O-ministration to silence the opposition.

              Remember Attack Watch? Or how we were instructed that “if you see something fishy” you’re supposed to e-mail it to the White House? The only difference I see here — and it’s a big one — is that previous attempts were focused on getting Obama loyalists to report their friends and neighbors. In this case they’re just using technology and gathering it themselves. Eliminates the middle-man (who, let’s face it, just isn’t as loyal to Obama as they need him to be. Particularly of late.)

              • #30
              • August 26, 2014 at 7:00 am
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