Combating Fake News with Open Innovation

Published Jan-22-18

A Google Chrome browser plug-in to combat fake news.

Yale University, United States

The Story:

Combating Fake News with Open Innovation In recent times fake news has been spreading like a plague throughout the world. The lies and false information are purposefully created to confuse and misinform. Among the reasons why so many people are sucked into this epidemic of disinformation is that the news format is easy to replicate and so wildly exaggerated stories appear to have the veneer of credibility. Then there is the confirmation bias, namely that people often seek out information that confirms their beliefs irrespective of the actual truth of the matter. Another problem is that some people are lazy and cannot be bothered to read widely and seek out facts.

Open Innovation Approaches

There are numerous global efforts to combat the rise of fake news including an open innovation event organized by Yale University. It was a 36-hour hackathon in which participants were invited to come up with a novel software approach.

More than 1,000 students took part, gathering on basketball courts inside a huge gym to ideate and work on their concepts.

The winning team comprised of four students who came up with a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser called Open Mind. It has a number of nifty features including a warning screen when someone enters a site that's known to disseminate fake news. The plug-in also uses existing sentiment analysis technology that analyzes any story in a reader's newsfeed, identifying key players and the political slant. Then it suggests other stories on the same topic with alternative viewpoints.

Additionally, the plug-in collects a user's browsing data and presents this information in a graph to show whether they have been reading stories from just one end of the political spectrum. The idea behind this is to help counter the confirmation bias.

One of the sponsors of the open innovation challenge was Facebook. The social media giant has faced fierce criticism for the amount of fake news that is disseminated through its newsfeeds, a problem which it is trying to eradicate.

"We're building products, many of which are very similar to what the students came up with at Yale," said Ruchika Budhraja, a Facebook spokeswoman. "We have something called 'Related Articles,' which helps people discover articles on the same topic when they share an article."

The Next Steps

The prize for the winning team is an opportunity to meet with members of the United States Congress in the spring of 2018. The winners are also going to embark on a research project to track the browsing history of volunteers to see if the plug-in changes their browsing habits.

Open Mind is due to launch in early 2018.

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