FCC Commissioner Supports House Investigation Of Government Twitter Censorship

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
Font Size:

The Republican FCC commissioner who first called attention to a government-funded study aimed at analyzing and censoring political content on Twitter announced Thursday his support for a House investigation into the study.

“The federal government has no business getting involved in a project that aspires to be the arbiter of political statements made on social media or assesses individuals’ political leanings,” Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement released Thursday about the announcement of a House Science, Space and Technology Committee probe into the National Science Foundation‘s “Truthy” study. (RELATED: Congressman: ‘Government Has No Business’ Studying ‘Social Pollution’ On Twitter)

“Furthermore, this wasteful project diverts scarce federal funds away from research serving a genuine scientific need,” Pai said.

Truthy has already received almost $1 million from the government to mine Twitter data and categorize users’ politically-related tweets into convenient government definitions of “social pollution,” “social epidemics” and “misinformation.” (RELATED: The Government Wants To Censor Social Media By Studying ‘Social Pollution’ On Twitter)

According to the project’s official description, Truthy aims to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.” Two of the study’s researchers co-authored a paper on a similar topic in 2012 examining social media use during the 2010 midterm election, which focused on “right-leaning Twitter users” who exhibited “greater levels of political activity, a more tightly interconnected social structure, and a communication network topology that facilitates the rapid and broad dissemination of political information.”

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith announced the probe earlier this week, saying the government “has no business using taxpayer dollars to support limiting free speech on Twitter and other social media.”

“I applaud Chairman Lamar Smith and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for launching an investigation into the National Science Foundation’s nearly $1 million grant to the ‘Truthy’ project,” Pai said Thursday. “In its own words, Truthy aims ‘to detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution’ on Twitter. Its stated end goal is to ‘mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, [and] detect hate speech and subversive propaganda.’ Among other things, Truthy also uses taxpayer dollars to evaluate the ‘partisanship’ of Americans’ Twitter accounts.”

Pai first brought attention to the study in a recent Washington Post op-ed, where he described it as “straight out of a George Orwell novel.”

“Focusing in particular on political speech, Truthy keeps track of which Twitter accounts are using hashtags such as #teaparty and #dems. It estimates users’ ‘partisanship.’ It invites feedback on whether specific Twitter users, such as the Drudge Report, are ‘truthy’ or ‘spamming.’ And it evaluates whether accounts are expressing ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ sentiments toward other users or memes.”

Pai described the entire study’s premise as false, and said the government “has no business entering the marketplace of ideas to establish an arbiter of what is false, misleading or a political smear.”

Follow Giuseppe on Twitter and Facebook