The Government's "Truthy" Squad Monitors Political Speech on Twitter. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The reference to Stephen Colbert is cute, but the feds' unbridled passion to monitor our communications is surely no joke.


Earlier this week, the federal government's National Science Foundation (NSF), an entity created to encourage the study of science—encouragement that it achieves by awarding grants to scholars and universities—announced that it had awarded a grant to study what people say about themselves and others in social media. The NSF dubbed the project Truthy, a reference to comedian Stephen Colbert's invention and hilarious use of the word "truthiness."

The reference to Colbert is cute, and he is a very funny guy, but when the feds get into the business of monitoring speech, it is surely no joke; it is a nightmare. It is part of the Obama administration's persistent efforts to monitor communication and scrutinize the expressions of opinions it hates and fears.

We already know the National Security Agency has the digital versions of all telephone conversations and emails sent to, from or within the U.S. since 2005. Edward Snowden's revelations of all this are credible and substantiated, and the government's denials are weak and unavailing—so weak and unavailing that many NSA agents disbelieve them.

But the government's unbridled passion to monitor us has become insatiable. Just two months ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which licenses broadcasters, threatened to place federal agents in cable television newsrooms so they can see how stories are generated and produced. The FCC doesn't even regulate cable, yet it threatened to enhance its own authority by monitoring cable companies from the inside.

What's going on here?

What's going on here, and has been going on since President Obama took office in January 2009, is a government with little or no fidelity to basic constitutional norms. There is no defense under the Constitution to any aspect of the government's—federal, state, regional, local or hybrid; or any entity owned or controlled by any government; or any entity that exercises the government's coercive powers or spends or receives its money—monitoring the expressive behavior of anyone in the U.S., not in a newsroom, on social media or anywhere else.

The NSF's stated purpose of the Truthy squad is to look for errors in speech, particularly errors that fuel hatred or political extremes. This monitoring—this so-called search for error—is totalitarian and directly contradicts well-grounded Supreme Court jurisprudence, for several reasons.

First, for the government to gather information—public or private—on any person, the Constitution requires that the government have "articulable suspicion" about that person. Articulable suspicion is a mature and objective reason to believe that the person has engaged in criminal behavior. Without that level of articulable belief, the government is powerless to scrutinize anyone for any reason.

The articulable suspicion threshold is vital to assure that people in America have the presumption of liberty and are free to choose their behavior unimpeded or threatened by the government. The feds cannot cast a net into the marketplace of ideas and challenge what it brings in. Were they able to do so, the constitutional protections for free expression and the primacy of liberty would be meaningless.

Second, the courts have repeatedly held that the First Amendment needs breathing room, and they also have held that government monitoring of speech curtails that breathing room. Stated differently, a person under observation changes behavior on account of the observation. Thus, by the very act of monitoring our words, the feds will have the effect of curtailing them.

The virtual or physical presence of the monitors would give people pause, cause them to reconsider offering opinions, induce them to refrain from expressing their true thoughts and even drive their speech underground. This is called "chilling," and it has been condemned by numerous Supreme Court decisions.

The principal purpose of the First Amendment is to keep the government out of the marketplace of ideas, and any governmental behavior that influences the exercise of the freedom of speech—no matter how gently, indirectly, innocently or secretly—violates that principle and provides the basis to sue the government to have its Stasi-like monitoring of speech enjoined. Another prime purpose of the First Amendment is to encourage open, wide, unfettered and robust debate about the policies and the personnel of the government. Who can engage in that with Big Brother watching and keeping score?

All presidents push the envelope when it comes to exercising their constitutional powers. But we never before have seen in modern times a president like the present one. From his halcyon days as a senator fighting for civil liberties, he has descended into a totalitarian darkness. How can he ask soldiers to defend a Constitution with their lives that he disregards with his deeds?

The government is worried about speech. Big deal. Speech is none of the government's business. History teaches that the remedy for tasteless speech is not government repression—it is more speech. In a free society, when the marketplace of ideas is open and unfettered, the truth is obvious. But in a repressive society, the truth becomes a casualty. Which society did the Framers give us?

NEXT: Brickbat: Back of the Bus

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  1. The job of zampolit could be a growth industry in our nation’s newsrooms and the Judge wants to shut it down.

    1. Alles klar, Herr Kommissar?


          1. Cyrillic isn’t a real character set.

            1. Character set? I thought it was a better alternative to enamels.

  2. National Science Foundation (NSF), an entity created to encourage the study of science?encouragement that it achieves by awarding grants to scholars and universities?announced that it had awarded a grant to study what people say about themselves and others in social media.

    If they didn’t fund this, they might just waste the money on something like researching a vaccine for ebola and other serious diseases.

    1. So I watch world war Z last night. Is that the first time a movie made a UN member out to be a super soldier and world savior?

      1. “Ve borrowed ze uber-soldat program for use with ze peacekeeper operations. Results vere not typical.”

      2. It’s even more insulting if you’ve read the book, which has no right to be as good as it is.

      3. JCVD was a UN super soldier in Street Fighter.

  3. First, for the government to gather information?public or private?on any person, the Constitution requires that the government have “articulable suspicion” about that person. Articulable suspicion is a mature and objective reason to believe that the person has engaged in criminal behavior. Without that level of articulable belief, the government is powerless to scrutinize anyone for any reason.

    Someone tell the judge that ship sailed long ago.

    1. judge that ship sailed long ago.

      Then it was boarded by pirates, everyone raped, plundered and then sat afire and sank.

      1. “When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England.”

        Prince Herbert’s Mother Father

        1. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of England

          Well it has two castles worth of foundation in the swamp under it. (the third fell off that perch)

          1. “Besides, your bride has got HUGE…tracts of land!”



  4. Hell,they could spend all their time watching congress and the white house. Oh ,I have read Dune and like it,all of his Dune novels..

  5. Speech is none of the government’s business.

    Well, unless it’s BAD speech, or HATE speech, or BIGOTED speech, or certain POLITICAL speech (ads within X days of an election), or FYTW speech.

    Yeah, other than THAT it’s none of the govt’s bidness.

    All. Is. Lost. Just a question of when we go over the cliff. Could be 10 years, could be 100 – but the US is over the cliff. Done. Fork in it. Nice try – fail. Same as it ever was.

    1. Koch Bros speech should and must be regulated, they are obviously up to no good !

  6. Colbert was a very funny guy… before 2008. It particularly vexes me that I used to actively look forward to his show and now it’s a source of irritation whenever it gets brought up.

  7. I think Judge Nappy is the Rush Limbaugh of the Libertarian movement.

    Anyone who states that “All Tax is theft” is far out.

    That said, if Liberals are to the LEFT and Conservatives are to the RIGHT, which direction is Libertarian?
    I propose DOWN for LEFT Leaning Libertarians and UP for RIGHT Leaning Libertarians.

    Either way, in the next election, I’m voting Libertarian as I did in 2012.

    I gave it some thought. The only part I like about libertarians is the Social Moderate/Liberal aspect of it.
    I hate the fiscal conservatives. I’m not a fiscal conservative.

    Republicans use, abuse, and take advantage of the religious people without really delivery anything to them.
    Democrats use, abuse, and take advantage of the liberal votes without really delivery anything.

    And, since Obama can’t stop wars and can’t even get any of the social liberal matters addressed, I give up.
    FUCK the Democrats…I’m voting Libertarian. I’ll live with the fiscal conservatives and enjoy the personal and property liberties offered by Libertarians.

    1. Cool story, bro.

      1. Him delivery us message

    2. Honest question, because I spend some time thinking about how to draw more people into the libertarian camp: what about the “fiscally conservative” side do you not like?

      1. The part where they don’t give him their property.

      2. I imagine they think government spending on things such as anti-poverty programs helps people in the short term and long term, and that without them there would be widespread suffering. They also might think motivations for wanting to reduce anti-poverty spending are ultimately a dislike of poor people and greedy desires to keep one’s (often) ill-gotten money.

        To clarify, this is what I imagine many people who support high levels of government spending think.

    3. Alice Bowie|10.23.14 @ 8:29AM|#
      “I think Judge Nappy is the Rush Limbaugh of the Libertarian movement.
      Anyone who states that “All Tax is theft” is far out.”

      I think you’re a lefty ignoramus too stupid to understand the English language.
      What do you call it when someone holds a gun on you and tells you do hand over money?

      1. Asset forfeiture?

      2. I know Alice is a regular, so maybe there you have some history there or something. But he/she just said she was going to vote L. Maybe that’s BS, but maybe not. Are insults really a necessary response?

        1. I have been coming to for YEARS.
          I am a liberal and I find that libertarians are rather intelligent and reasonable people to debate matters.

          In many fiscal matters, I am to the left if not a full contrarian to many fiscal policies. These assholes above do NOTHING but insult me for merely being a contrarian. I ignore them and sometimes use other PEN NAMES to avoid them.

          My views have changed on many matters thanks to many debates I’ve had right here:

          1. I’m open to closing down the Public Schools and the Board of Ed and replacing them with Private schools funded by the tax payer.

          2. I’m in accord with eliminating the Public Unions. Especially the Police Union which keeps cops employed and allows police to commit crimes with Impunity.

          3. I see the problems that occurred by granting students money to go to college. The college realized the APPETITE of the funding and raised their tuitions accordingly.

          4. I voted for Gary Johnson in 2012 because I HATE OBama.

          5. I believe in Zero Income Tax and a FLAT Tax with No deductions, exemptions.

          BUt I am still fiscally liberal in other aspects. I believe in public Pension and various tax payer funded safety nets. Capitalism will probably collapse if Market Failures aren’t patched as we go along.

          So yes, I consider my political views now as to the DOWN (Very Left Leaning Libertarian.) And FUCK what SEVO and others have to say.

          1. In point 5. I believe in ZERO Corporate Income Tax, to be clear.

          2. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

            It is nice to see debate and conversation rather than name calling.

          3. I prefer to argue rather than insult, so I can see your annoyance.

            That being said, all taxation is theft. If it weren’t enforced with arms, they’d call it charity (or donations). Theft is theft regardless of who does it and regardless of the reasons.

            Before the government got involved in “charity”, there were safety nets. Until government gets involved there are no “market” failures.

  8. I usually like Judge N, but this is a crock of shit. Comparing the analysis of public tweets to the NSA monitoring is ridiculous. There isn’t even any PII in the tweets other than what the tweeter chooses to give out.

    1. NSF has been funding linguists and sociologists to study public language behavior since the nineteen sixties. To the best of my knowledge nobody has ever called that ‘government monitoring of speech’, any more than NSF grants to look for cures for cancer is ‘government monitoring of your personal habits’. The chances of anybody in the ‘government’ even looking at the articles that come out of this research are less than zero.

      You can certainly argue that the US government shouldn’t be funding scientific research (we wouldn’t be on this blog if we didn’t think something like that) but to suggest that some specific NSF-funded study is based on some secret Obama plan shows extreme naivete about how the NSF and the US government works, or what research funding is used for. I’ll buy the Limbaugh comparison above. I expect better from Napolitano.

      1. So, if all they do is monitor, or maybe even have low level cubbie farms monitor, than, yes, what you are saying is vaguely in the general direction of something looking like the original target.

        All it would do is have a “cooling effect” on free speech. After all, if somebody from “Legal” or “Compliance” wants to sit in on your meeting with a client or fellow employee, your conversation will be very different, at least internally. Tell me this isn’t going to be a problem with political debate?

        The issue is NOT what is going to happen next year, nobody cares about next year. the problem is what will happen in 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. Truthy will eventually have a peer-reporting option, where a person can “flag” a tweet as triggering, racist, mean, etc. That, of course, wont be overused and used to abuse.

        If somebody gets enough “flags” I promise that their speech will be more closely monitored and their conversations more thoroughly looked at.

        I agree, I do NOT thing that it is some Obama plan to become emperor. But he won’t be president forever. If he puts this in place, and somebody who really IS a bad dude, and not simply innept, can get ahold of the same information, how well do you see that going? Could be team RED, BLUE, GREEN, or PINKO, but somebody bad, malicious, or incompotent, will get ahold of this and use it for their own benefit. The future always resembles the past.

    2. I agree that it’s kind of a mountain out of a molehill, much like cops looking at your facebook page– but why did they call it “truthy”?

      1. Silly judge must have added paragraph one after you read it:

        “The NSF dubbed the project Truthy, a reference to comedian Stephen Colbert’s invention and hilarious use of the word ‘truthiness.’ “

  9. “In theory”

  10. Colbert is a very funny guy? Judge, you have a weird sense of humor.

    1. I’m starting to think Colbert’s show functions as a tool for helping progressives stay insulated in their echo chambers of delusion. Idiots watch TDS to feel like they’ve been informed on the news. Then they watch TCR to feel like they’ve heard, understood, and then justifiably spurned the voice of “the other side.”

      1. That about sums it up.

      2. Yup. To someone like the judge Colbert is a funny parody. To the morons who watch him, he is real.

  11. “We’ve given you a republic, if you can keep it”

    1. The republic is long gone. We now live in a “democracy.” And I’m still waiting for someone to satisfactorily explain to me how suffering a tyranny of a majority is any less torturous or deadly than one of a minority. If you’re about be wrongly hanged what difference does it make if it’s one asshole, or a mob of assholes, doing the job?

  12. If it please the court,

    I direct the courts attention to exhibits A. and B.

    NSF funding for this project started in 2012.

    The focus of the project is memetic spread.

    Some publications focus on detecting signatures of synthetic grassroots activities. These activities are sometimes referred to as Astroturf Astroturf?.
    To avoid possible trademark issues I will use the phrase “Washington Redskins”.

    Washington Redskins activity on Twitter appears to have reliable indica. These signals can be used by individual information consumers when assessing the credibility of the information.

    The project does not appear to have focused on novel approaches to sentiment analysis, nor does it appear to focus on areas likely to be beyond current IC capabilities, or on algorithms optimized for IC oriented hardware.

    The project does not use data unavailable to the general public, nor does it appear to focus on optimization for the Twitter corporate analytic architecture.

    I request that the court appoint a special master to report on this issue (since the work involves replication with variation of information units, any Ridley, M. would be acceptable).

    Table of Exhibits


    1. I also wish to introduce the Amicus brief from SUSAN B. ANTHONY List v.
      v. DRIEHAUS filed on behalf of The Cato Institute and P. J. O’Rourke [1], because P. J. O’Rourke.

      ?[1] Pursuant to this Court’s Rule 37.3(a), letters of consent
      from all parties to the filing of this brief have been submitted to
      the Clerk. Pursuant to this Court’s Rule 37.6, amici state that
      this brief was not authored in whole or in part by counsel for
      any party, and that no person or entity other than amici made a
      monetary contribution its preparation or submission. Also,
      amici and their counsel, family members, and pets have all won
      the Congressional Medal of Honor.?

  13. “articulable suspicion:”

    They’re breathing.

  14. The Progressive Paradise is only a few years away.

    1. Yes, but somehow it always receeds into the distance at a rate of at least one yeard per year.

  15. No, no, you see it’s not good, honest speech that they’re worried about, it’s “abuse”. Because “abuse”–which they can detect but not quite define–keeps stopping the good, honest people from not debating the things that good, honest people have already decided are undebatably true.

    So, obviously, you can have no valid objections to their noble cause of stopping abuse. I mean, you’re not the sort of social-media wreckers who would _condone_ abuse…are you?

  16. My neighbor’s half-sister makes $75 /hour on the computer . She has been fired for eight months but last month her payment was $17951 just working on the computer for a few hours.

    1. Your math sucks. 17951 at $75/hr is 239.35 hours, which, in 4 weeks, is 59.8 ours per week. Try harder, spambot.

      1. The comment I posted this to has been deleted. Please ignore my math comment. :-/

  17. my co-worker’s mother makes $71 /hr on the laptop . She has been unemployed for 9 months but last month her payment was $17334 just working on the laptop for a few hours. published here


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