Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Truthy?
  2. What is a meme?
  3. What is a diffusion network?
  4. What is sentiment analysis?
  5. How do you get your data?
  6. Has this project been reviewed by an ethics board?
  7. Is this site liberal or conservative?
  8. I read some serious allegations about this project. Are they true?
  9. Why was this site recently changed?
  10. What technology do you use?

What is Truthy?

Truthy is a nickname associated with a broad research project that seeks to study how memes spread online. Our first application was the study of astroturfing: memes promoted by social bots to create the appearance of a grassroots movement. Truthy was the name of the first demo created to visualze the spread of memes on Twitter. The word, suggested by a graduate student, comes from a term popularized by Stephen Colbert, truthiness, which describes claims that feel like they ought to be true, but aren't necessarily.

What is a meme?

A meme is an idea, value or pattern of behavior that is passed from one person to another by imitation. In our research, a meme can be a #hashtag, @mention/reply, URL, or phrase.

What is a diffusion network?

A diffusion network is the graph obtained by connecting user nodes with edges that represent the spread of a meme. Edges can represent retweets (in blue) or mentions (in orange).

What is sentiment analysis?

Sentiment analysis is the practice of using an automated metric to estimate the emotional content of text. We use several sentiment analysis algorithms. For example, we employ a custom implementation of the OpinionFinder algorithm, which finds emotionally-charged words in the stream of tweets and calculates a ratio of positivity to negativity.

How do you get your data?

We collect a sample of public tweets from Twitter via their Streaming API. The messages are sampled by Twitter, and the sampling is said to be random, i.e. representative. We have been collecting this data since September, 2010 and continue to analyze it for research purposes.

Has this project been reviewed by an ethics board?

Yes. Research based on analysis of public social media data, carried out as part of this project, has been approved by Indiana University's Institutional Review Board.

Is this site liberal or conservative?

In our early work analyzing the spread of political memes in the run-up to the 2010 US midterm elections, we visualized all memes cooccurring with election-related keywords. Our data analyzed millions of meme diffusion networks relevant to this as well as other themes on which we focused (news and social movements). We are a non-partisan research group and there was no attempt to represent or support any political views. In spite of this, in an ironic turn of events, our project has been the target of a disinformation campaign alleging political bias. Read our reponse in The Truth about Truthy.

I read some serious allegations about this project. Are they true?

No. This research project is not and never was a political watchdog, a database to be used by the federal government to monitor the activities of those who oppose its policies, a government probe of social media, an attempt to suppress free speech or limit political speech or develop standards for online political speech, a way to define misinformation editorially or subjectively, a partisan political effort, a system targeting political messages and commentary connected to conservative groups, a mechanism to terminate any social media accounts, or a database tracking hate speech. Any such allegations are false. They were fabricated and spread by certain media outlets and certain politicians prior to the 2014 mid-term elections. For further information please read this letter, this statement, these articles in CJR and Science, this interview, these slides, and this post.

Why was this site recently changed?

This website was originally designed to showcase demos associated with Truthy and we had a separate research project website. We updated this site from time to time as we added new demos and removed old ones that were no longer working. The controversy about the project in 2014 generated a lot of scrutiny of this website, and the distiction between the research project and the demo website created some confusion. Therefore we redesigned this website to provide a single source of information about the research project as well as demos and tools.

What technology do you use?

We use a variety of tools to bring you the Truthy service. The overall effort is directed using our own custom scripting language called Klatsch. This language uses the Gephi Toolkit for graph layout. We also rely on a number of other publicly available tools, including Boost, Django, Google Chart Tools, ImageMagick, JQuery, d3.js, MPlayer, MySQL, HarpJS and the Twitter APIs. Our thanks to the authors of these tools for making our site possible! Finally we gratefully acknowledge CNETS for funding the computing infrastructure that hosts the Truthy service.