Freelance Writer, Editor and Professor
This is disturbing, but is it surprising?
Most of us have opinions on politics and politicians that are negative. That’s why we think of the people involved as politicians, not leaders. Leaders transcend disciplines and populate every corner of society. Politicians are creatures of politics, not leaders, necessarily.
This report tells us: “The general public’s trust in leaders is far below that of institutions in all 26 markets. Globally, trust in business to do what is right is at 50 percent while trust in business leaders to tell the truth is 18 percent, a 32-point trust gap; the gap between government and government official is 28 points. The trust gap between business and business leader is amongst the largest (35 points) in the U.S. and China.”
Consider Indiana University’s Truthy Project in this context for a moment.
As I report in an entry in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Social Media and Politics edited by Kerric Harvey, Truthy is a research project that analyzes Twitter in order to separate the true from the merely “truthy.” Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthy” which means misinformation masquerading as fact. The project itself analyzes patterns made by online “tweeted” political discussions and all of its findings are publicly available with the ultimate goal of making everyday users more aware of manipulations of data.
According to researchers, the ultimate question asked by Truthy is, “Can we put together our understanding of complex social networks and crowdsourcing to automatically detect the spread of misinformation?” Truthy’s researchers want us to understand the ways information is created via social and technical informational relationships. They hope that studying tweets as “behavioral trace data” will help us to understand and predict the ways information spreads.
Truthy uses the Twitter database of memes and usernames to see how often any given meme is mentioned. It gathers samples of tweets from Twitter using the website’s own “Streaming API.” Twitter says this information is random and representative although it only goes three months back at any given time. However, since Truthy began gathering the data in September of 2010 they have a sample that goes back until then.
The system compares Twitter memes and tweets to psychologically-designed databases of words. This is how it can “tell” what a meme or tweet’s mood or emotion is. So for example if I was tweeting about this topic the system is supposed to be able to see that I mentioned #Truthy and then decide based on the other words and word patterns I use how I feel about it.
This is research that requires participation; it is making use of a unique form of crowdsourcing.
Researchers ask that visitors to Truthy flag memes that appear to be manipulated somehow as “truthy.” This part of the project will hopefully be a large part of revealing the patterns of misinformation and ultimately help the project to cover more ground faster in its quest to call out Twitter “abuse.” Researchers are aware that crowdsourcing may or may not be reliable; this is part of the long-term research plan.
The Truthy Project was inspired by a study from early 2010 by a professor of computer science at Wellesley, Pagiotis Takis Metaxas. Metaxas studied Twitter “bombs” used by a conservative political group on an election day. The bombs were cascades of messages intended to manipulate trending on Twitter and ultimately Google results as they report results as things change in real time.
Truthy’s ultimate goal remains the detection of astroturfing, political smear campaigns and other social manipulation.
So, can projects like Truthy help us to trust our politicians enough that we see them as leaders? Or will it more useful to consumers and marketers alike?