Politicians will have a little less chance of spreading misinformation, thanks to a new website from a group of techies frustrated at being misled in the run-up to up to the US mid-term elections.
Truthy.indiana.edu combines data mining, social network analysis and crowdsourcing to winkle out deceptive tactics and misinformation.
It combs through thousands of tweets per hour, then uses an algorithm to sort them into ‘memes’. The memes are then inserted into the Twitter API to find out just where they originated.
“When we identify a trend we go back and examine how it was started, where the main injection points were, and any associated memes,” said Filippo Menczer, associate professor of computer science and informatics at Indiana University.
“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.”
Menczer got the idea for the Truthy website after hearing researchers from Wellesley College speak earlier this year about a Twitter bomb campaign conducted by the conservative group American Future Fund against Martha Coakley, a democrat who lost the Massachusetts senatorial seat.
Republican challenger Scott Brown won the seat after AFF set up nine Twitter accounts in the early hours before the election – and sent out 929 tweets in two hours before Twitter realized it was spam. By then, the messages had reached 60,000 people.
Menczer says that because search engines now include Twitter trends in search results, an astroturfing campaign – where PR is disguised as spontaneous comment – can jack up a result’s ranking on Google.
“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.
And this tool might – just might – shed light on a finding from voter registration campaign group Headcount, published this week. Its survey of social media sites found that Republican election candidates have four times as many Facebook fans as their Democratic rivals.
“Social media activity is a great barometer of people’s passions,” says executive director Andy Bernstein.. “But four or five times bigger?”
Recently, TechEye revealed that the Number 10 Downing Street Twitter account was artificially bumping up the number of its Twitter followers.