Government spending records show that the Biden administration is set to award more than $550,000 in grants to develop artificial intelligence that can automatically detect and quash microaggressions on social media.
The grant was given to researchers at the University of Washington in March and was funded through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The researchers expect the total grant amount to reach $550,436 over the next five years and have already received $132,000 in funding.
The goal of the research is to create machine-learning models that are able to analyze social media posts for signs of implicit bias and microaggressions, which are generally defined as insults that cause offense to members of minority groups.
The administration’s funding of the research comes as the White House faces increased scrutiny and fends off accusations that it seeks to censor online speech. Last month, Biden called for an investigation into tech billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of social media platform Twitter after Musk said the company would commit to a “free speech” agenda.
Musk released internal company communications known as the “Twitter Files” earlier this month that revealed a longstanding relationship between the FBI and Twitter. The disclosures showed that the agency was heavily involved in the platform’s content moderation activities.
A spokesman for the National Science Foundation, which issued the grant, told The Washington Free Beacon that the project “does not attempt to hamper free speech,” but instead creates “automated ways of identifying biases in speech” and contends with the biases of human content moderators.
Though it states that microaggressions can be unconscious and unintentional, the research’s description does not provide examples of what sort of comments would fall into the category.
According to the National Science Foundation, computer science professor Yulia Tsvetkov is leading the project. Tsvetkov has authored studies that indicate the artificial intelligence model might find and censor speech that many would not find offensive, such as praise for the concept of meritocracy.
In a 2019 study titled “Finding Microaggressions in the Wild,” Tsvetkov gave examples of microaggressions that included statements like “Your mom is white, so it’s not like you’re really Black,” and questions like “But where are you from, originally?”
Conservative watchdog groups expressed alarm over the government’s funding of the research, telling the Free Beacon that it amounts to a White House attack on free speech.
“It’s not the role of government to police speech that some might find either offensive or emotionally draining,” Dan Schneider, vice president of the Media Research Center’s free speech division, said. “Government is supposed to be protecting our rights, not suppressing our rights.”
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