Republican FCC commissioner applauds 'Truthy' probe

The Republican member of Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) who first expressed alarm over a university program studying Twitter trends applauded a House panel for opening a probe into its funding. 

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai on Thursday thanked the House Science Committee for standing up for "free speech" and examining the government-funded "Truthy" project based at Indiana University. 

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"The federal government has no business getting involved in a project that aspires to be the arbiter of political statements made on social media or assesses individuals’ political leanings," he said in a statement. "Furthermore, this wasteful project diverts scarce federal funds away from research serving a genuine scientific need."

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) earlier this week said his panel is investigating why the government's National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the project and accused it of using taxpayer money to limit free speech. 

Pai and others have recently said the program seems to be taken straight out of a George Orwell novel, pointing to a portion of its 2011 grant abstract that proposes creating a service that "could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate."

The three-year-old "Truthy" project is meant to be dedicated to understanding how information spreads online. The project samples real-time public tweets to identify and study trending topics, political and otherwise. An important area of study for the project is "how social media can be abused."

Much of its early work explored the partisan differences in social media use and the spread of misinformation online and has broadened since then.

The project has been given a little less than a million dollars since receiving the NSF grant in 2011. The NSF has a budget of a little more than $7 billion in 2014, helping to fund thousands of research projects a year.