Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Panic Over "Orwellian" Twitter Study

Ajit Pai
Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the five-member FCC, warned in a WaPo op-ed Saturday about a National Science Foundation study of people's communications on Twitter, which he said amounted to govt monitoring of speech, "seems to have come straight out of a George Orwell novel."

"In the U.S., the govt has no business entering the marketplace of ideas to establish an arbiter of what is false, misleading or a political smear," he wrote. "The federal govt has no business spending your hard-earned money on a project to monitor political speech on Twitter."

The "Truthy" study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is being developed by Indiana University researchers to study how popular ideas and jokes spread throughout popular culture. One focus is the spread of "political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution," researchers said.

"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," the university explained.

To Pai, the project sounds a lot like the FCC's controversial plan to study the editorial practices of newsrooms, which many said could be a violation of the constitutional rights of freedom of the press. Pai was a major critic and his alarms helped to have it scrapped.

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