The US defence research agency has launched 10 red balloons in a contest to assess the accuracy with which information spreads on the internet.
The giant moored weather balloons were launched on Saturday morning at 10 undisclosed locations across the United States.
More than 4,000 groups have registered to take part in the challenge.
The group that first pinpoints the exact location of all 10 stands to win a $40,000 (Â£24,000) prize.
Johanna Jones, a spokeswoman for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), said that beyond the actual contest, the aim was to see whether social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter should be seen as credible sources of information.
Darpa is no stranger to innovative uses of technology.
The agency – which is part of the US defence department, – played a pivotal role in the creation of the internet itself.
That original network was created at the behest of the US government as a way to access and distribute information in the case of a catastrophic event.
Forty years on, with the internet in full swing, the same agency is keen to see if the power of social networking sites – with their tens of millions of users – can be used as a credible source to alert authorities of impending disaster or unrest on US soil.