Monday, October 11, 2010

And the Truthy Shall Set You Free

I've just read about a great project at Indiana called Truthy. (Here's a linky). The idea is simple: during the upcoming election, their system will detect smear campaigns on social networking sites in real time, and post some visualization of how the meme spreads over time. The idea is to try to prevent "astroturfing", which are well-organized political campaigns masquerading as grassroots efforts.
"The team will then generate diffusion network images that visitors to can view as groups of nodes and edges that identify retweets, mentions, and the extent of the epidemic...
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.

Menczer explained that because search engines now include Twitter trends in search results, an astroturfing campaign -- where the concerted efforts of special interests are disguised as a spontaneous grassroots movement -- that includes Twitter bombs can jack up how high a result shows up on Google even if the information is false...

'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,' Menczer said."
Definitely a clever approach to the problem, and if you're a twitter user, get involved!

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