House panel probes 'Truthy' Twitter study

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithDemocratic staffer says Wendy Davis will run for Congress Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Anti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' MORE (R-Texas) is launching a formal inquiry into the taxpayer-funded "Truthy" study of Twitter that critics say targets conservatives on social media.

Smith sent a letter to the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Monday voicing concern that it contributed nearly $1 million to Indiana University research that could establish accepted norms for Web communication.

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“The committee and taxpayers deserve to know how NSF decided to award a large grant for a project that proposed to develop standards for online political speech and to apply those standards through development of a website that targeted conservative political comments,” Smith wrote.

The study, named “Truthy” after a word coined by comedian Stephen Colbert, seeks to explore how people use social media and spread information online. It has focused particular attention on how social media can be “abused” by spreading propaganda or misleading statements.

The study has come under fire from some conservatives who fear it is an attempt to regulate speech on the Internet.

This summer, Ajit Pai — a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission — wrote in an op-ed that the study seemed “straight out of a George Orwell novel.”

In his letter Monday, Smith said that the some accounts highlighted in the study “were subsequently terminated by the owners of the social media platforms, effectively muzzling the political free speech of the targeted individuals and groups.”

Researchers and defenders of the study have said that the opposition is knee-jerk and overblown. Many scientific studies are funded in part by federal money. 

The algorithms that monitor how information spreads "are entirely oblivious to the possibly political partisanship of the messages," they wrote this summer, as critics began to raise their voices.