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IU Says Twitter Study Does Not Aim To Limit Free Speech

truthy website

Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU News

The Truthy website explains the results and analysis of the IU social media study.

A U.S. House committee is looking into an Indiana University study that some media outlets have alleged is an attempt to limit free speech on social media.

Indiana University officials say those reports are a gross mischaracterization of the study’s goals.

In a statement released Tuesday, Rep. Lamar Smith,  R-Texas, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the National Science Foundation’s $1 million grant that is funding the IU project called Truthy is “worse than a simple misuse of public funds.”

“The NSF is out of touch and out of control,” Smith said. “The Science Committee is investigating how this grant came to be awarded taxpayer dollars. The NSF must be held accountable for its funding decisions.”

IU associate informatics professor Johan Bollen, one of Truthy‘s main researchers, says the project does not aim to limit free speech. It takes tweets or public posts on other social media sites and runs those through algorithms to detect general trends about how information and ideas are spread and transformed as they are shared across online networks.

“We wouldn’t have gotten approval for the grant if we were actually using the results of that research to interact with people because then you are performing an experiment, you’re interfering with people’s activities online,” Bollen says. “That’s simply not allowed.”

The question of whether the IU project aimed to limit political speech originated on the conservative website the Washington Free Beacon.

It was later picked up by other media sources including Fox News and the Washington Post, although the Post published another article Wednesday refuting the claims.

Bollen says some of the data that comes through the team’s algorithms is political speech, but it is treated no differently than other information.

Bollen notes that NSF grants are not contingent upon performance. He says the application process is rigorous and must meet high standards that indicate the work has substantial scientific value.

“It’s not really some kind of contractual commitment for you to perform services for the federal government in exchange for funding,” Bollen says.

The results of the Truthy project, including academic papers and interactive analytical tools are publicly available online.

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  • wreckinball

    Defund it. Its not worthwhile and has that creepy big brother aspect to it.
    Whats the point of it. That people say dumb, ourageous inflammatory stuff on twitter on all kinds of topics?
    Of course they do we don’t need a study to know that

  • Chaosotter

    A point is that very small groups of people set up very large armies of thousands of fake people to automatically say dumb, outrageous inflammatory stuff on twitter on all kinds of topics so as to create the impression that lots of people agree, when they don’t, and it’s all a sham, but a very effective sham with the ability to sway public opinion and even alter the outcome of elections. And that automatic techniques can be developed to identify these armies of fakes so that actual human beings can see what’s real and what’s not. That has real social value.

  • Pingback: CHILL: Taxpayer-Funded Initiative Collected 600,000 Political Tweets in its ‘Database,’ Bragged About Having Conservative Twitter Accounts Suspended | pundit from another planet

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