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US Government Funding Online Surveillance Of Memes

| by Jordan Smith
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A U.S. government-funded project has reportedly been established under which researchers track the emergence of memes online and store them in a database.

The goal of the project is to tackle “misinformation” online, but there are concerns this will include alternative political opinions and beliefs, Activist Post reported.

The research project is being supported by a grant of $1 million from the federal government’s National Science Foundation. The project is being referred to as the “Truthy Database.”

A team of government-funded researchers working out of Indiana University will decide if information is true or false.

“The project stands to benefit both the research community and the public significantly. Our data will be made available via [application programming interfaces] and include information on meme propagation networks, statistical data and relevant user and content features,” the grant explains, according to Activist Post.

“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. 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,” it added.

The data has yet to be made available in open source form as promised, and the database is not online.

The project’s website described some memes as coming from “the shady machinery of high-profile congressional campaigns.”

Twitter is the main focus for the surveillance scheme, but it will also cover Facebook, Instagram and other social networks.

The news comes just two months after a bill was reintroduced in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California urging social media companies to search their sites for “messages that could incite terrorist acts.”

The bill was criticized for making too much information available to the government and targeting innocent people.

“One of the many problems with the bill is that it vaguely [addresses] how companies would have to describe the facts and circumstances of the terrorist activity,” Emma Llanso, the director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy, told ThinkProgress. “Whenever [politicians] are talking about what amounts to a censorship policy we need to be very clear about what amounts to unlawful content.”

Sources: Activist Post, ThinkProgress / Photo credit: Webtreats/Flickr

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