How AI Can Help You Decide What to Trust in Online News


The proliferation of fake news couldn't happen without technology. The internet allows anyone, anywhere to spread information -- whether or not it is true. But technology could also help serve as a tool that makes people more aware of which stories are not trustworthy.

(Image: Mega Pixel/Shutterstock)

(Image: Mega Pixel/Shutterstock)

True story: one of my social media connections asked for recommendations for reliable new sources and got a few outlets named, though some of us -- myself included -- said that you simply cannot rely wholly on any single source and have to check through multiple sources to be sure you get the full picture of the facts in context to find where the truth lies.

But not everyone is sophisticated enough to be aware that reports they see -- even from outlets with solid reputations -- need to be taken with a grain of salt. That's why Valentinos Tzekas founded FightHoax, the creator of an AI-powered algorithm that empowers anyone to ascertain if an article is fake or not in just seconds without Googling the story.

Described with the tagline, "Fighting against the mass misinformation spread," FightHoax claims an accuracy rate of 89% based on the most recent and most user-requested 172 fact-checked articles).

It is still in private beta and not fully public. Its use is currently reserved for "high-end users like journalists, founders of AI news startups, people who can appreciate the tech behind each result."

What the tech is not is a fact-checker, Tzekas clarified in an email exchange. It also is not meant to remove humans from the equation. "At FightHoax we are trying to create a human-level solution to fake news, not just a complicated AI Algorithm," he said.

He offered this brief explanation of how it works: "First of all, the history and reputation of the website which hosts the news article has, is analyzed." That means taking to account the extent to which the site is linked with fake news. The next step is to consider the reputation of the author of the article. That would take in to account factors like experience writing for respected outlets or expertise on the issue or journalistic accomplishment.

Lastly, the article itself is analyzed and compared to verified articles on the same topic. In the process, it explores the following questions:

  • Do the other articles about the same event have important differences?
  • Does the article include enough information for us to compare?
  • Is the language quality good?
  • Is the syntactic similarity high but not the semantic one?

Based on the analysis, the variables are assigned particular weights to determine if the article checks out as true or a hoax within seconds.

Unlike human readers who tend to trust their favored sources completely, the algorithm is programmed to recognize that any source can end up publishing fake news. Each article has to stand on its own merit. It's quite possible that one article from the New York Times is rated as trustworthy, while another one fails to meet that standard. It all depends on what the author is writing about, Tzekas said, and that is why FightHoax assess articles rather than news organizations as a whole.

Without that kind of assessment, it is easy to drown in an ocean of misinformation. "Today, in 2017, we are bombarded with articles" he said, and more information translates into less thinking about the news we consume.

"We want to break filter bubbles and echo chambers. We want to make you think of the opposite opinion, too, not to present to you what you want to see," he asserted.

I asked him about the role that Facebook and Google have played in the way people get their news today, he said, "I think that they have made some wrong decisions" and believe that "they should try to be more transparent."

He believes that we can overcome the fake news problem with a "human level solution." FightHoax's algorithm is to serve as component within "a media literacy platform" that raises awareness of the need to be an educated consumer of news.

Tzekas believes that "critical thinking and quality news consumption skills is a must skillset for every 2.0 citizen" -- the need for critical thinking is what the project is really about. With so much news coming through the internet, news consumers must be properly equipped to be "the 'king' of what they consume!"

Cambridge Dictionary defines fake news as "false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke." In the future, AI may be one of the technologies applied to help consumers distinguish between what is real and what is fake.

Until then, remember what Abraham Lincoln has warned us about in multiple memes: "Don't believe everything you read on the internet."

Ariella Brown,

Ariella Brown is a social media consultant, editor, and freelance writer who frequently writes about the application of technology to business. She holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Her Twitter handle is @AriellaBrown.

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Re: Fake News and The Critical Thinking Divide
  • 1/2/2018 6:21:01 PM
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In regard to how FightHoax evaluates content for authenticity, Ariella reports that major factors are "the history and reputation of the website which hosts the news article" and "the reputation of the author of the article".

Then "the article itself is analyzed and compared to verified articles on the same topic", using criteria such as "Do the other articles about the same event have important differences?"

Much of the leading-edge news reporting nowadays involves "breaking news" of what amounts to scoops, often by a single news publication, reporter, or team of reporters. I'd suggest that in evaluating authenticity, the criteria cited in the first paragraph above would be paramount, even if there aren't "other articles about the same event" immediately available (since they haven't uncovered the scoop yet).

 

Re: Facebook or The Daily Show: Which do you trust for your news ?
  • 1/2/2018 5:54:15 PM
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@PC @Seth People do gravitate to particular outlets that generally match their own political leanings, and they also tend to friend the people who share those views. Both of those add to our building up our echo chambers rather than challenging our own assumptions.  That's why so many peopple end up sticking with the narrative that they've adopted because it  makes them feel good about their political identification and eliminates the need to go through the trouble of assessing facts on their own. You just have to check all the party boxes.

Re: Facebook or The Daily Show: Which do you trust for your news ?
  • 1/2/2018 3:32:48 PM
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Thereís an old song that talks about this -

a man hears what he wants to hear And disregards the rest.

From: The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel

The daily glut of information forces us to avoid analyzing everything we see or hear. We all do this, to some extent.

To compensate, I try to have a larger variety of sources. Plus, I donít feel any need to have an opinion on matters that I donít care about.

Re: Facebook or The Daily Show: Which do you trust for your news ?
  • 12/31/2017 10:19:49 PM
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Re: "But not everyone is sophisticated enough to be aware that reports they see."  I would estimate that amount to be about 75% of the nation.   I say that because 45% of the nation watches one news station and one news station only whose name I will not mention, but has been shown by study after study to be misleading.  

And in my own experience in college, I would say that a good half of them never developed adequate research skills even after graduating from a master's program.  (They learned to rely on other students instead.) 

And then there are those who simply don't want to.  A particular news outlet said what they wanted to hear and that's the end of that. 

Re: Facebook or The Daily Show: Which do you trust for your news ?
  • 12/18/2017 10:02:12 AM
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@Louis visual sources for news can be particularly misleading. We are brought up on the adage: "seeing is believing," and so we are trained to regard images and videos as more convincing than text. But there is also less thinking involved in watching something than in reading about it, which turns off critical thinking for many people. News becomes more about entertainment and emotional appeals than about information that has been verified to be accurate and contextualized appropriately. Certainly, Facebook that seeks engagement and shares benefits more from the emotional than the objective, and the sam e woudl likely apply to shows that depend on high ratings. 

Re: Fake News and The Critical Thinking Divide
  • 12/18/2017 9:59:46 AM
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<How do we protect those who don't have the critical skills to question what they read or hear >

@Louis Indeed, that is the underlying concern behind FightHoax that citizens of today's world need to become sophisticated enough to not accept news at face value. That's why they believe peole do need to be educated, but I don't think this education is something that can be limited to schools where, unfortunately, teachers are often blind to their own biases that make them accept certain sources 100% of the time even when they have to think through every thing from every source.

Facebook or The Daily Show: Which do you trust for your news ?
  • 12/17/2017 4:50:33 PM
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"....I really wouldn't want to trust Facebook for my news."

 

Neither would I Ariella, but judging from recent historical happenings it is clear many people do.   Not unlike someone relying on the Daily Show to provide news to those who watch regularly.   Which source is better for news ?    

I would think even if the angle is somewhat satirically skewed, the topics based in the Daily Show are at least based in reality and not created by some nebulous source whose main goal is to influence those who lack the time, tools or the Will to investigate further.

Fake News and The Critical Thinking Divide
  • 12/17/2017 4:40:35 PM
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While I applaud the efforts of companies like FighHoax, it is concerning that the numbers of people who might benefit from it's use are what they are.     How do we protect those who don't have the critical skills to question what they read or hear ?

Of course education is the key but there is a large segment of society who for whatever reason might not be able to close this gap.   And as you mention Ariella, even those of us who think we have critical skills can still be fooled by news snippets that are taken at face value. 

 

This is a tall task and kudos to oompanies like FightHoax for taking on the challenge.

Re: Fact Check Delay
  • 12/17/2017 10:33:09 AM
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@Lyndon_Henry you could try it out in beta on grounds of journalistic work. The contact form is here

Re: Fact Check Delay
  • 12/17/2017 10:31:07 AM
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FightHoax sounds like it could be a good tool for those of us that must rely on reputable and competent information. I await with eager anticipation the day when it's made available for general public use ...

 

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