The federal government is spending nearly $1 million to create an online database that will track "misinformation" and hate speech on Twitter.
The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor "suspicious memes" and what it considers "false and misleading ideas," with a major focus on political activity online.
The "Truthy" database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to "detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution."
The university has received $919,917 so far for the project.
"The project stands to benefit both the research community and the public significantly," the grant states. "Our data will be made available via [application programming interfaces] APIs and include information on meme propagation networks, statistical data, and relevant user and content features."
"The open-source platform we develop will be made publicly available and will be extensible to ever more research areas as a greater preponderance of human activities are replicated online," it continues. "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," the grant said.
"Truthy," which gets its name from Stephen Colbert, will catalog how information is spread on Twitter, including political campaigns.
"While the vast majority of memes arise in a perfectly organic manner, driven by the complex mechanisms of life on the Web, some are engineered by the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns," according to the website.
"Truthy" claims to be non-partisan. However, the 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.
Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University, links to each of the organizations on his personal page from his bio at the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research.
The government-funded researchers hope that the public will use their tool in the future to report on other Twitter users.
"Truthy uses a sophisticated combination of text and data mining, social network analysis, and complex networks models," the website adds. "To train our algorithms, we leverage crowdsourcing: we rely on users like you to flag injections of forged grass-roots activity. Therefore, click on the Truthy button when you see a suspicious meme!"
The project also seeks to discover why certain Internet memes go viral and others do not. Funding is not expected to expire until June 30, 2015.