Fake news: is there a technological solution?

Fake news are on the world agenda. Some people say that there are more news about fake news than actual fake news. We did some reasearch on the matter to try to figure out if anyone has developed a tool to fight disinformation. Fortunately, we discovered that many academics and technologists are thinking up solutions to the problem.

Our first interesting finding was something by Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble. Pariser has created an open google doc to collect information on different solutions. Pariser created the document in November 2016, and since then, various contributors have suggested various proposals for solutions. Here are some concrete examples:

Fact-checking APIs

The idea here is to provide an API, against which news can be fact-checked (i.e. the news are submitted to the API, and the API returns a fact check estimate rating). Snopes or Politifact are examples of such API-based fact-checking systems, and they can be installed as a browser plug-in.

Page ranking systems

Page ranking systems would assess the authority of a story based on its domain and URL history. Since this can be algorithm-based (no humans involved), such a system could scale much better than human-based systems such as Politifact or Snopes. However, we could not (yet) find an operational example of such a system.

Other algorithmic systems (no human involved)

Approaches like Snopes or Politifact are limited in scale because they rely on humans. However, in order to be able to cope with the ever-increasing volume of news, we need scalability. With Mergeflow we searched for automated approaches that rely on algorithms rather than humans to identify fake news. One such approach is HoaxyGiovanni Luca Ciampaglia, a research scientist at Indiana University, and his colleagues created Hoaxy for the collection, detection, and analysis of online misinformation and its related fact-checking efforts. The tool allows you to search for terms and receive reports with stories that spread the claims, as well as fact-checking articles that disprove it.

We were wondering whether Hoaxy is being discussed in general news media; after all, fake news are a hot topic, and Hoaxy appears to provide a solution, so it should be discussed widely, right?

Not so. We checked world wide general news media (not social networks) for news on fake news. In our general news databases, we found that there is a drastic increase in coverage in November 2016:

In total, from November 2016 to January 2017, we counted ca. 2,380 news on fake news. However, out of these 2,380 news, only two articles mention Hoaxy: an article from Toronto Metro News and one from Le Monde. There are additional mentions of Hoaxy in “technology media” such as Wired or Technology Review. However, we think that these are different types of media, compared e.g. to Le Monde, New York Times, Zeit, etc..

So, unfortunately it seems that while lots of people talk about fake news, very few (and not those “in the mainstream”) talk about potential solutions to the problem.