by Jim Giles, New Scientist
How many times have you believed a lie today? Probably at least once if you’ve read the news: long-running studies show that just over half of US newspaper stories contain at least one error. If you’ve looked up health information, you can probably chalk up another mistake: several surveys have found widespread errors in popular health websites.
Some falsehoods have spread so far and so wide, few people question them anymore. Guess, for instance, which of the following statements are incorrect: Napoleon was short, all bats are blind, you must drink eight glasses of water per day. Answer: all of them. Napoleon was of above average height for his time, many species of bat can see, and healthy people can meet their hydration needs by simply drinking when thirsty.
The notion that everyday life is rife with misinformation is hardly new, but plenty of people are worried that things are getting worse. Thanks to the internet, rumours, inaccuracies and lies have the means to bounce around social networks, blogs and news sites with unprecedented speed – and often with significant consequences. Take one of the biggest political fibs of recent years: the claim that US healthcare reforms would include “death panels”, groups of bureaucrats that would rule on the fate of patients. That suggestion spread quickly online, and corrupted honest debate about the reforms. ………..
Several organizations are developing technologies that can prevent falsehoods from spreading on the Internet. The tools are designed to flag errors in online content before they spread to a mass audience……..
For example, one organization has developed PolitiFact, a program that pays journalists to analyze 35 political statements a week, awarding each a Truth-o-Meter rating from “true” to “pants-on-fire. “FactSpreaders aims to integrate PolitiFact’s checks into Twitter……..
PolitiFact has made waves – it won a 2009 Pulitzer prize and has inspired similar groups in Europe – but its “pants on fire” determinations do no good if they are confined to its website. For a fact-check to change a belief, it needs to be available at the moment the information is consumed. And that is where the new tools come in. ……..
This will need an enormous army of on-line, real time fact checkers. A solution may be to recruit that army online…..
Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to use the crowd to purge the internet of falsehoods is a tool called Hypothes.is, which is due to launch next year. Dan Whaley, the founder of the non-profit organisation in San Francisco that is developing it, decided to act after watching the confusion caused by the debates around healthcare legislation and the banking crisis: “Like the rest of us, I feel the pain of trying to understand what is going on and what information to trust.” ……
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed TruthGoggles, a browser extension that alerts users when they come across questionable statements on the Internet.
Another tool is called Hypothes.is, software that allows for the annotation of almost any assertion online. Hypothes.is also includes a browser extension that enables users to place layers of annotations onto a Web page.
Hypothes.is will begin by focusing on a specific type of content, such as legislative documents or scientific papers. The tool involves a sophisticated ranking system that prioritizes insightful annotations.
DCL: This is just the beginning of fact check tools. We will need tools that check streams of data in real time, and that will certainly require CEP. Nobody has applied CEP to this problem yet.
Giles’ article is worth a read, but unfortunately you have to register with New Scientist. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528821.700-reality-checker-how-to-cut-nonsense-from-the-net.html