House panel will investigate Twitter study

The head of the House Science Committee is announcing a probe into a taxpayer-backed Indiana University study of how people use Twitter.

The “Truthy” study, which is partially backed by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), looks at how information spreads on social media services such as Twitter, but has attracted criticism from people who fear it amounts to government oversight of free speech online. Among other things, the study looks at the spread of “political smears” and “social pollution" on Twitter.


“The government has no business using taxpayer dollars to support limiting free speech on Twitter and other social media,” Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement on Tuesday morning. “While the Science Committee has recently looked into a number of other questionable NSF grants, this one appears to be worse than a simple misuse of public funds.”

“The NSF is out of touch and out of control,” he added. “The Science Committee is investigating how this grant came to be awarded taxpayer dollars. The NSF must be held accountable for its funding decisions.”

Researchers have denied that their program is meant in any way to suppress free speech.

In a blog post meant to rebut criticism that has gained momentum since this summer, researchers said that study is merely focused on how information spreads online. 

“Truthy is not intended and is not capable to determine whether a statement constitutes ‘misinformation,’” researchers wrote. “The target is the study of the structural patterns of information diffusion.”

Over the weekend, the project came under fire from Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai, who compared it to his agency’s controversial thwarted plans to study newsroom behavior in a Washington Post op-ed

Researchers hit back on that criticsm, calling it part of an extended “smear campaign.”

An NSF spokesperson told The Hill that the foundation funds about 11,000 proposals each year, all of which are reviewed on both their merits and the broader impact.

“Through this process, NSF ensures that each proposal submitted is reviewed in a fair, competitive and in-depth manner,” spokeswoman Dana Topousis said in an email.

This post was updatd at 1:53 p.m.