Researchers aim to help web users recognize ‘fake news’
NEW YORK — You, too, can join the battle against misleading and other “fake” news online. But your options are somewhat limited unless you’re already an academic or data scientist who’s been studying the subject since way before Donald Trump started running for president.
Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, a research scientist at Indiana University, fits that bill. He helped create a tool tracking how unsubstantiated claims spread online, a phenomenon that first caught his eye during the Ebola crisis in 2014.
“We started seeing a lot of content that was spreading, completely fabricated claims about importations of Ebola, (such as) entire towns in
Texas being under quarantine,” he says. “What caught our attention was that these claims were created using names of publications that sounded like newspapers. And they were getting a lot of traction on social media.”
“Fake news,” which has gotten a lot of attention for its potential role in swaying the 2016 presidential election, has fascinated researchers for some time. Their studies have yielded tools that help track how “alternative facts” spread, and others that let you identify fake stories or block them altogether.
Hoaxes: A group of
researchers at Indiana
University have created an online tool called Hoaxy that seeks to visualize “the spread of claims and related fact-checking online.”
Although it’s still a work in progress, Hoaxy can trace the origin of, for instance, the false claim that millions of votes in the 2016 presidential election were cast by “illegal aliens.” Type in your search terms and Hoaxy will report back with stories that spread the claims, as well as fact-checking articles that
In this instance, the claim goes back to a November article from Infowars.com that was shared 17,961 times on Twitter and 52,200 times on Facebook, according to Hoaxy. The site only tracks actual links people shared,
so it misses anything that’s paraphrased or posted without a link.
Limitations: Tools such as Hoaxy or rumor-identification apps are only helpful if people use them. The same goes for another approach — using a web browser plug-in to identify or block fake-news stories. For instance, the Chrome extension “Fake News Alert,” created last year, says it will tell you when you are visiting a site “known for spreading fake news.”
But there are a few drawbacks. Many people aren’t willing to go to the trouble of adding new extensions to their browser. And such
extensions only work on the desktop version of Chrome, not its mobile counterpart.
A final obstacle: While fake news has been in the real news a lot, many people
simply aren’t that aware of it.
“A lot of consumers are not savvy about it,” says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing
professor at Pace University who follows the fake news phenomenon. “And of those that are — and it’s a small number— not a lot of them add plug-ins to browsers.”