Meet Truthy, a government project that will scan Twitter for 'social pollution'


Big Brother is reading your tweets. At least that's what it seems like with an ambitious new project called Truthy, which is partially funded by the U.S. Federal government.

The study is being conducted by researchers from the University of Indiana and backed by the National Science Foundation. The project aims to use data collected from Twitter feeds to determine how misinformation, or so-called "social pollution," is spread through online social media.

The name "Truthy" was inspired by satirical TV talk show host Stephen Colbert. He coined the term during the premiere episode of his show, The Colbert Report, where he defined the word as "truth that wouldn't stand to be held back by facts."

Memes on Twitter, which are being presented as fact even when they are not, are what Truthy monitors.

"We also plan to use Truthy to detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution. While the vast majority of memes arise in a perfectly organic manner, driven by the complex mechanisms of life on the Web, some are engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns. Truthy uses a sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex networks models," the researchers explain the project on the offcial website.

The project has already been gaining criticism from writers like Ajit Pai of the Washington Post, who is also a member the Federal Communications Commission.

He writes that the whole concept sounds absolutely Orwellian and emphasizes that the government should not be in the newsroom or poking around the social media habits of private citizens.

"In the United States, the government has no business entering the marketplace of ideas to establish an arbiter of what is false, misleading or a political smear," he points out.

Meanwhile, researchers for the Truthy project are encouraging people to participate in the study by clicking on the Truthy button every time they see a suspicious meme being shared and trending.

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