Feeds

Tweety profs offer political smear-meme 'truthiness' ratings

Wisdom of crowds to be improved by, er ... the wisdom of crowds

High performance access to file storage

Earnest academics in Indiana have set up an internet project designed to thwart evil right-wing internet smear campaigns against Democratic politicians, astroturfing, "and other social pollution". The website, truthy.indiana.edu, uses the Twitter API to identify internet memes and measure their "truthiness" - ie how bullshitty they are, in modern parlance.

"One of the concerns about social media is that people are being manipulated without realizing it because a meme can be given instant global popularity by a high search engine ranking, in turn perpetuating the falsehood," says Filippo Menczer, professor of computer science and informatics.

"Swiftboaters* beware!" exclaims the site. In a statement released yesterday announcing the service, the designers explain the threat it is intended to guard against:

Menczer got the idea for the Truthy website after hearing researchers from Wellesley College speak earlier this year on their research analyzing a well-known Twitter bomb campaign conducted by the conservative group American Future Fund (AFF) against Martha Coakley, a democrat who lost the Massachusetts senatorial seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy. Republican challenger Scott Brown won the seat after AFF set up nine Twitter accounts in early morning hours prior to the election and then sent out 929 tweets in two hours before Twitter realized the information was spam. By then the messages had reached 60,000 people.

Twitter bombings of this sort can push a truthy meme - for these purposes a #hashtag, a @mention/reply, or a URL - up the Google rankings and generally get it looked at. Assisting the truth (the truthful truth, not the truthy truth) to gets its boots on faster is the new project's goal, which it will apparently accomplish simply by flagging up dubious trending memes.

"When we identify a trend we go back and examine how it was started, where the main injection points were, and any associated memes," says Menczer. "When we drill down we'll be able to see statistics and visualizations relating to tweets that mention the meme and basically reconstruct its history."

Here's a vid, for example, showing the development of the Twitter burst generated by Lady Gaga supporters toward John McCain following Gaga's comments about McCain's opposition to repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on uncloseted gay people serving in the US military:

However, Menczer and his colleagues' code can only identify memes which seem to be about politics - it can't tell whether they're truthy or not. Thus, it seems that the new social-networking-driven political effects are to be kept honest by - you guessed it - crowdsourcing. The system decides how truthy something is by tallying up the number of visitors who click the "Truthy" button when it presents a suspicious meme.

The truthy designers consider that the site will be a valuable resource in the run up to the November congressional elections, helping concerned US netizens evade any scoundrelly Tweetbomb-driven autofalsehoods and cast their votes responsibly.

Alternatively, it will simply implode in a crippling digital feedback loop as the same dastardly astroturfers it seeks to unmask use truthy.indiana.edu to discredit itself, or to discredit criticism of their campaigns. It would certainly seem a difficult task to make the output of anonymous internet commentards more useful by getting anonymous internet commentards to assess it. ®

Bootnote

*For UK readers, those who may have been on Mars at the time, etc: This refers to a famous smear campaign mounted by US republicans to the effect that democrat senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry's naval service in river gunboats ("swift boats") during the Vietnam War was in some way discreditable.

Undisputed facts of Kerry's service were that he was involved in several serious battles with enemy forces and was wounded more than once. He was awarded two medals for gallantry, for actions quite sufficient to merit the awards.

Kerry definitely saw more action and ran more personal risks than the average among US Vietnam veterans - many of whom saw no combat at all. Compared to his 2004 election opponent George W Bush - who avoided going to Vietnam altogether by getting into the Texas National Guard - Kerry appears in a still better light.

Bizarrely, however, much of the US public became convinced during the 2004 election that the timid, draft-dodging Bush would be a better Commander-in-Chief of the US military than Kerry, the decorated combat veteran.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Reprieve for Weev: Court disowns AT&T hacker's conviction
Appeals court strikes down landmark sentence
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.