Swans Commentary » swans.com October 9, 2006  



The Global War On Negative Sentiment


by Jan Baughman





"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
—George W. Bush, September 20, 2001

"I don't govern by polls, you know. I just do what I think is right. And I understand some of the decisions I made are controversial. But I made them in the best interest of our country, and I think in the best interest of the world."
—George W. Bush, June 21, 2006


(Swans - October 9, 2006)  It arouses suspicion to learn that under the auspices of a president who dismisses the polls -- both domestic and international -- yet claims to know what Americans want (insert his opinion here) and makes decisions on behalf of the "best interest of the world," the Department of Homeland Security is funding research into software that can monitor the sentiment towards the U.S. as reported in the global media. Figuring out the actual goals of such program is limited only by the imagination: to identify countries that harbor potential editorial terrorists; to round up dissenters and make them disappear via extraordinary rendition; to identify news markets in which government-payroll "reporters" should be deployed and faux (read: favorable) news reports should be disseminated; to demonstrate once and for all, scientifically, that the media is a dangerous institution that must be controlled by the government if the world is to be a safer place, for example.

On October 4, 2006, The New York Times reported on this new program described as "sentiment analysis," another bit of news buried along with demise of Habeas Corpus by the more salacious Mark Foley distraction (perhaps a distraction designed to provide much-needed cover for the real crimes in the making, but I digress). The program itself is not getting much funding in the grand scheme of things, just $2.4 million over 4 years -- merely a few hours of war in Iraq -- awarded to groups at Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Utah. But the grand irony is, whether it's $2.4 million or $2.4 trillion, the media are not all over this story. It's about them, after all.

According to a Cornell article, "professors Claire Cardie and Lillian Lee are working on sentiment-analysis technologies for extracting and summarizing opinions from unstructured human-authored documents. They envision systems that (a) find reviews, editorials, and other expressions of opinion on the Web and (b) create condensed versions of the material or graphical summaries of the overall consensus." The Times reports a statement by Homeland Security that such software would allow them "to identify common patterns from numerous sources of information which might be indicative of potential threats to the nation...We want to understand the rhetoric that is being published and how intense it is, such as the difference between dislike and excoriate." Or good and evil, perhaps?

Of course, this "creepy and Orwellian" program, as it is characterized by Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, will not be used in the U.S. -- that would be against Federal law, says Homeland Security spokesman Christopher Kelly. (For an overview of other activities that used to be against Federal law until Congress rewrote them for the president, see Gilles d'Aymery's article, "Latest Banana Republic"). Nope, it will be done here too, rest assured, just like the wiretapping and monitoring of bank transfers that weren't to be done here. It will be done to The New York Times and the Washington Post, and Fox News just to keep them in line; it will be done to the myriad Web sites like Swans for, though we all publish from the U.S., we publish to the world, thanks to the Internet, and that leaves us all open to a loophole -- and I hate to give away this free suggestion to the Department of Homeland Security -- but how does one define foreign news?

It is a fact that (and to quote Cardie and Lee, "Be cautious when you hear, 'It is a fact that...,' the phrase is highly correlated with the introduction of an opinion rather than a fact!") the US government does not need to spend $2.4 million to know what the global media is saying: The entire world thinks America has gone off the deep end, and some liken its government's actions to terrorism. But that's just my opinion -- two cents worth of sentiment analysis, which one day I just may pay a hefty price for once we learn what this sentiment analysis program is really about.



Sentiment Analysis

Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of U.S.
By Eric Lipton, October 4, 2006, The New York Times


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About the Author

Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/jeb162.html
Published October 9, 2006