Recent commentary by Ajit Pai, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, puts Project Truthy in the spotlight anew. At top level, some of the research topics identified by Truthy are valid and useful in our field – understanding the propagation of ideas and messages via social media. We could see, for example, asking whether some members of a community are inadvertently disenfranchised because of some previously unknown property of technology.
That isn’t Truthy’s goal. Now quoting Pai’s cautionary article,
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.”
The Indiana University professor, Filippo Menczer, who is principle investigator on this project identifies social media hashtags “#foxnews”, “#constitution” and “#abortion” as ways to recognize “far right” speech to be flagged. In August the Washington Free Beacon (also as linked by Fox at the time) points out
[T]he project’s lead investigator Filippo Menczer proclaims his support for numerous progressive advocacy groups, including President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action, Moveon.org, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and True Majority.
Echoing the commentators mentioned above, this is Orwellian indeed. By funding this, either the National Science Foundation dropped the ball (supporting development of a chilling technology that takes it completely outside of its traditional non-partisan role) or it has decisively come out of the closet as a play-for-pay operation.