The Government Wants to Study ‘Social Pollution’ on Twitter
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I’m going to side with Jonathan Zittrain on this one. I think that Ajit Pai, an FCC employee who wrote this op ed, is waxing hyperbolic against research and funding that is direly needed.
While the right and the left fringes will automatically make this an outrage of the day, the research is significant, is beneficial, and if we want the internet to stay healthy and useful it’s also well needed.
The average consumer of online news, tweets, and videos doesn’t have time to research origin, amount of artifice, intent, authority, and locale of every item they come across the way us news junkies do. So if we don’t want the entire internet to become consumed in robot tweet campaigns, artificial organizations and causes, pseudo authority, and political product placements, we have to develop some tools to detect when that happens, whether it’s originating offshore, or from our own left, right, or radical but somewhat unwholesome extreme far fringes.
The best recent example of this is #gamergate, a tweet campaign turned viciously misogynist and entirely contrived and orchestrated in IRQ by a handful of bchan miscreants. So if we don’t want the worst amongst us to drive the conversation on every issue, we had better be able to suss out and tag the robo campaigns at minimum.
The Truthy team says this research could be used to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”
Hmm. A government-funded initiative is going to “assist in the preservation of open debate” by monitoring social media for “subversive propaganda” and combating what it considers to be “the diffusion of false and misleading ideas”? The concept seems to have come straight out of a George Orwell novel.
The NSF has already poured nearly $1 million into Truthy. To what end? Why is the federal government spending so much money on the study of your Twitter habits?
Some possible hints as to Truthy’s real motives emerge in a 2012 paper by the project’s leaders, in which they wrote ominously of a “highly-active, densely-interconnected constituency of right-leaning users using [Twitter] to further their political views.”