I once heard it said that Twitter is a great place for marketers to talk to other marketers about marketing. It seems that four researchers at Indiana University want to test what hashtag trends are legitimate internet memes and what’s just a bunch of malarkey. The National Science Foundation has granted $919,917 to a project called Truthy — named for the Stephen Colbert-coined “truthiness” — to “explore why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten.”
What it really looks like is they’re attempting to suss out accounts that seem to exist just to get their pet causes trending.
The Truthy team gives us a glimpse of its analytical process in its description of the #AMPAT hashtag. “What makes this meme suspicious,” Truthy’s researchers write, “is that the bursts of activity are driven by two accounts controlled by the same user, in violation of Twitter TOS, and in an effort to give the impression that more people are tweeting about the same topics.”
They use something they’re calling the “Gardenhose” to collate tweets that are political in nature, tracking which trending topics have seen a suspicious surge in popularity and seem more like calculated campaigning rather than honest-to-goodness web chatter. They claim they can examine thousands of tweets an hour to determine what’s astroturf.
It’s unclear why exactly they’re targeting political trends first, but it’s certainly pissing off conservatives. Truthy’s top researched hashtags all seem to be for things like “TCOT” (Top Conservatives On Twitter) and GOP, so it looks a little bit like they’re picking out the right wing crowd to put through the bullsh*t detector. Their federal grant is on a yearly basis, so no word on whether their experiment will continue through the full swing of the next presidential election.
While I appreciate the idea of making these sorts of marketing campaigns more transparent, is it really worth spending a million dollars on?