Big Brother is Watching: The government wants to study ‘social pollution’ on Twitter

Posted: Oct 20, 2014 12:01 AM

This isn’t new but it deserves attention. Much of life, and especially political life is engaged in online these days. It’s no surprise that the government is interested in controlling what goes on there.

In fact in 2012 there was a report that if one used certain words online one might be flagged by the authorities. Big Brother has been “big brothering” in social media for quite a while now.

Sure, people fall into ideological silos online, and engage in sophomoric insults, but generally we do have access to a free market of ideas. More than at any time in history. (It’s been our saving grace in many ways.) We live in a golden age of communication and we must keep it golden. We mustn’t let the autocrats lock information down.

The powers that be feared the printing press centuries ago because it empowered people and spread literacy. The Internet and social media takes this to a whole new level and it scares Washington.

Part of making sure things remain open is watching the government watchers. Eternal vigilance from the citizenry is the only way we keep the Internet free. We must accept that in this space (at least) the relationship between citizen and government is an adversarial one. We citizens have our interests – information, freedom, liberty, ideas. The government has it’s interests – primarily having to do with power.

From here on out the citizenry will never have the luxury of becoming complacent. It’s simply not an option.

(From The Washington Post)

Named “Truthy,” after a term coined by TV host Stephen Colbert, the project claims to use a “sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex network models” to distinguish between memes that arise in an “organic manner” and those that are manipulated into being.

But there’s much more to the story. 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.

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.

Click here for the article.

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