Students Solving Facebook’s Fake News Problem In 36 Hours

Facebook's fake news

Facebook is facing increasing criticism over the Facebook’s fake news in the 2016 election. The spreading of false information during the election cycle was so bad. Even President Barack Obama called Facebook a “dust cloud of nonsense.”

And Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction to this criticism was called as “tone deaf.” His public stance is that Facebook’s fake news is a small percentage of the stuff shared on Facebook. This tiny stuff couldn’t have had any impact. Facebook has officially vowed to do better. It insisted that digging out the real news from the lies is a difficult technical problem.

How hard of a problem is it for an algorithm to determine real news from lies?

But now it’s not that hard.

During a hackathon at Princeton University, four college students created a form of Chrome browser extension. It just took 36-hours for four of them. They named their project “FiB: Stop living a lie.”

The students are Nabanita De, the second year Masters in Computer Science student at UMass Amherst; Anant Goel, freshmen in Purdue University; Mark Craft, a sophomore at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Catherine Craft, a sophomore at UIUC.

De tells that their news feed authenticity checker works like this:

“It classifies every post. It may be pictures (Twitter snapshots), adult content pictures, fake links, malware links, fake news links as verified or non-verified using artificial intelligence.”

“For links, we take into account the website’s reputation. Also, query it against malware and phishing websites database and also take the content. Search it on Google/Bing. Then retrieve searches with high confidence and summarise that link and show to the user. For pictures like Twitter snapshots, we convert the image to text. The usernames mentioned in the tweet are used to get all tweets of the user. And to check if a current tweet was ever posted by the user.”

The browser plug-in then adds a little tag in the corner.This says whether the story is verified or not.

For instance, it discovered that this news story promising that pot cures cancer was fake. So it noted that the story was “not verified.”

But this news story about the Simpsons being bummed that the show predicted the election results. That was real and was tagged “verified.”

The students have released their extension as an open source project. So any developer with the know-how can install it, and tweak it.

A Chrome plug-in that labels fake news obviously isn’t the total solution for Facebook to police itself. Ideally, it will erase the Facebook’s fake news totally. It’s easy to miss tag and not ask people to install a browser extension.

But the students show that algorithms can be built to determine within reasonable certainty which news is true and which isn’t. And that something can be done to put that information in front of readers as they consider clicking.

By the way, Facebook was one of the companies sponsoring this hackathon event.

Many Facebook employees are so upset about this situation. A group of rebellious employees inside the company is taking it upon themselves to figure out how to fix this issue. Maybe FiB will give them a head start.

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