Truthy: The Tax-Funded Speech Monitoring and Suppression Project

One professor's million-dollar campaign against conservatives, courtesy of the taxpayer.

5582_hLeftist speech suppressors are at it again, but this time they’re apparently being subsidized by the American taxpayer. On Monday, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter to the head of the National Science Foundation (NSF), demanding information about the nearly $1 million spent on the “Truthy” data-mining project that monitors political speech on Twitter. “The committee and taxpayers deserve to know how NSF decided to award a large grant for a project that proposed to develop standards for online political speech and to apply those standards through development of a website that targeted conservative political comments," Smith wrote to NSF Director France Cordova.

The letter continues:

While some have argued that Truthy could be used to better understand things like disaster communication or to assist law enforcement, instead it appears Truthy focused on examples of "false and misleading ideas, hate speech, and subversive propaganda" communicated by conservative groups.

Then comes the kicker that should infuriate Americans who believe in the First Amendment. “Whether by amazing coincidence or on purpose, it appears that several media accounts that were highlighted by Truthy were subsequently terminated by the owners of the social media platforms, effectively muzzling the political speeches of the targeted individuals and groups.”

Smith also references a book, The Death of the Internet, co-written by Filippo Menczer, professor of Informatics and Computer Science at Indiana University. Menczer is the project’s lead researcher. The book was released in 2012 and contains a chapter titled "Abuse of Social Media and Political Information,” in which Menczer notes that “Truthy was originally deployed in the run up to the 2010 US midterm elections with the explicit purpose of detecting and tracking political astroturfing attempts in real time.” According to Menczer, astroturfing is the employment of “deceptive tactics” that can be used to "gain a large numberers of followers and obtain a voice of importance within the community.”

For Menczer and his ilk, the idea that Americans should have the freedom to determine which messages are true or false is a bridge too far: he writes how he and his team managed to get Twitter accounts suspended.

The Washington Free Beacon reveals the original scope of the project, noting that "Truthy tracked up to 8 million tweets per day in the run up to the 2010 midterms, and stored 600,000 political tweets in their database.” Menczer denied that database’s existence. “The headlines are saying something that is completely false and fabricated,” he insisted. “We are not defining hate speech. We are not tracking people. We don’t have a database.”

The project began in 2011 at Indiana University following the awarding of $919,917 grant "aimed at modeling the diffusion of information online and empirically discriminating among models of mechanisms driving the spread of memes. We explore why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten….Additionally, we will create a web service open to the public for monitoring trends, bursts, and suspicious memes. This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.”

False and misleading idea, hate speech and subversive propaganda, according to whom? Menczer's personal political activity shows support for radical leftist groups, including Organizing for Action, Moveon.org, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and True Majority. And he has admitted that Truthy was inspired by the Twitter bombing campaign against Senate Democratic candidate Martha Coakley in 2010. Coakley lost that election.

Furthermore, in presentations to academic groups, Menczer has highlighted his research efforts focused on conservative groups, individuals and hashtags. Examples include the conservative Heritage Foundation’s use of #obamacare, pro-Sarah Palin tweets, and tweets using the hashtag “#tcot,” which stands for "Top Conservatives on Twitter.”

Menczer's self-stated goal? To detect the dissemination of particular memes (transmitted cultural ideas, symbols, etc.) "early before damage is done--that is what we're trying to do.” He also insists that while the project is non-partisan, "almost all of the most popular hashtags, the most active accounts, and the most tweeted URLs, are from the right. We looked really hard for any 'truthy' memes from the left.”

Columnist Michelle Malkin cuts right through that ridiculous assertion, citing the #StopRush smear campaign where a total of 10 Twitter users accounted for 70 percent of the campaign-related tweets to advertisers that were amplified by “illicit software.” And the Beacon cites two accounts Truthy got suspended. One was that of health insurance broker C. Steven Tucker, who used the hashtag “American Patriots,” or #ampat, and the other was @PeaceKaren_25, an account suspended after expressing support for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Tellingly, this story has reached critical mass at the same time President Obama revealed he is intent on regulating the Internet, reclassifying it as a utility in order to bring it under the increasingly tighter yoke of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). "To put these protections in place, I'm asking the FCC to reclassify internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act," Obama said in a statement released Nov. 10. "In plain English, I'm asking [the FCC] to recognize that for most Americans, the internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life.”

Obama and his followers also support “net neutrality,” which is the idea that every “packet" of information sent across the Internet be treated equally, regardless of source, destination, or content—with very limited exceptions made for illegal, malicious, or unwanted transmissions. The public utility model would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to wire up every house in the country irrespective of cost, with the FCC granted the power to set prices offsetting the additional regulatory burdens, and allowing the ISPs to make money.

In other words, the Internet would no longer be subject to market forces of supply and demand. Obama and his supporters ostensibly don’t want that to happen, but legal obstacles abound, the foremost of which should sound quite familiar to most Americans:

“In its proposed rules the FCC is essentially doing what can only be proposed by Congress: invent a new legal regime for broadband.”

Reason.com’s Grant Babcok reveals why the Obama administration is obsessed with getting more control over the Internet, noting that "the federal government is attempting to use the Internet to build a global Panopticon, capable of accessing everyone's personal information at any time for any reason or no reason,” and that "securing the cooperation of private companies” is part of that effort. He explains the government bullying that would be necessary to obtain that cooperation has happened before during the financial crisis, when the Federal Reserve forced banks to take TARP money they didn’t want. "The threat to Internet freedom is government control,” he concludes. "That means that if you care about liberty, you should oppose Net neutrality and Title II reclassification.”

Despite all denials to the contrary, the objectives of Truthy and net neutrality—and let’s not forget the IRS’s targeting scandal as well—bear a striking resemblance to each other: suppression of speech on one end of the equation, buttressed by greater government control over one of the foremost engines of that speech dissemination on the other.

Tellingly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has labeled net neutrality as “ObamaCare for the Internet.” That would be the same ObamaCare that relied on “the stupidity of the American voter” to secure its passage, according to MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, one of its chief architects.

Americans need to be very clear here: leftists like Menczer, Gruber and Obama, along with countless others who share their bankrupt ideology, have nothing but contempt for their fellow Americans. It is a contempt buttressed by unrelenting arrogance that drives all of them towards imposing ever-increasing amounts of government control over the “benighted” masses they see as fundamentally incapable of making rational decisions on their own.

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