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Computer Scientists Say Meme Research Doesn't Threaten Free Speech

By Computerworld

November 5, 2014

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In a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the heads of five of the U.S.'s largest computing research organizations, including ACM, refuted political attacks on a research project at Indiana University that seeks to understand what makes ideas go viral, particularly on Twitter.

The project, known as Truthy, recently became a target for several lawmakers, particularly Smith, who characterized the project as an effort to limit free speech on social media. His criticisms were echoed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who last week said the goal of Truthy is to "evaluate users' 'partisanship' and to track 'subversive' propaganda."

In the letter, the heads of the Computing Research Association, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, ACM, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the USENIX Association pushed back against these ideas. In particular they refuted the idea that Truthy is about controlling political speech, noting it is not capable of making political judgements or distinctions and is not able to exercise any kind of direct control over Twitter. The letter's points echo Truthy researchers' response to the political attacks, which noted the project makes it easier for users to identify suspicious or phony information.

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