Pai Applauds House Inquiry Into 'Truthy' Study

The chairman of a powerful committee says the government has no businesses using tax dollars to study political messages on Twitter, which drew applause Thursday from one FCC commissioner.

Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is looking into a government grant to help fund the 'Truthy' study of how information, and misinformation, is spread on Twitter, including its "abuse" via "astroturfing," or the art of masking political messaging.

“The government has no business using taxpayer dollars to support limiting free speech on Twitter and other social media," said Smith in announcing the inquiry. "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. The Science Committee is investigating how this grant came to be awarded taxpayer dollars. The NSF must be held accountable for its funding decisions.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who had criticized the study, praised the move.

"I applaud Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for launching an investigation into the National Science Foundation’s nearly $1 million grant to the “Truthy” project," said  Pai, who had panned the study in an op ed in the Washington Post earlier this week, suggesting the study was akin to the FCC's attempt to poll TV station newspeople on why they covered certain topics.

"In its own words, Truthy aims “to detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution” on Twitter. Its stated end goal is to “mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, [and] detect hate speech and subversive propaganda.” Among other things, Truthy also uses taxpayer dollars to evaluate the “partisanship” of Americans’ Twitter accounts.

"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. I commend the House Science Committee for performing necessary oversight and standing up for the ideals of free speech and open, democratic discourse."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.