I will tell to you a few things about the first Twitter bomb that with my colleague we found a couple years ago. And there it was a case in which somebody was attacking the candidate Martha Coakley in the last Massachusetts elections. We found out that actually it was easy to detect this kind of attack.
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[Stefik’s] four ideas about the Internet is that we think about Internet, number one as a library. And this was the 90s and we had this electronic library, the digital library. That doesn’t mean that we digitized libraries, it means that that’s the metaphor we used to think about the Internet, as a place that has information that we can look up. His second was we think of it as the mail. Or you could say the telephone. And so that’s more about individuals and interpersonally communicating in some way. The third is that we think of it as a virtual world. And the fourth is that we think of it as a marketplace.
I’d like to cluster my thoughts and structure them into four categories. One is what I will call foundational issues. Second, a few words and observations regarding methods. Third, a few areas of application that we touched upon this morning, and maybe also highlighting one or two that we haven’t talked so much about but that I think are increasingly important. And then finally also as a segue to the following sessions, a few words about potential points of intervention.
When you’re looking at something as big as these questions of verifiability, truth, truthiness, disinformation, so on and so forth, I find myself now trying to pick apart the questions we talked about this morning from the perspective of tractability. So let me use that to sort of frame a couple of the conversations we’ve had and then a couple of things that haven’t come up, and then see if I can sort of push us forward a little bit into where we go this afternoon.
Well I believe there is a truth we share. I think it’s our sense of justice. I think of the great Paul Newman depiction in The Verdict, his closing argument when he speaks to the jury and says, “You are the law. I believe there is justice in our hearts.” So the truth, the verdict. Vera dictos, speak the truth. That’s what juries are told to do.
I’ve experienced first hand the challenges of trying to correct misinformation, and in part my academic research builds on that experience and tries understand why it was that so much of what we did at Spinsanity antagonized even those people who were interested enough to go to a fact-checking web site.
What is it about our brains that makes facts so challenging, so odd and threatening? Why do we sometimes double down on false beliefs? And maybe why do some of us do it more than others?
I actually come at this with a set of questions for folks here. Because before we get to the action question I have questions about the broader problem, right. So when we’re talking about truth and truthiness and in media, I think we first have to ask whose truth matters, and what are its boundaries.
We identified a group of users on Twitter and we said as a coding challenge, like social battlebots, write a bot that will embed itself in this network and we will score you based on how well these bots are able to achieve some kind of social change, either in the pattern of connections between people or in the things that people talk about.