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Better online tools give you more ways to check ‘fake news’

Researchers have launched upgrades to two tools that counter the spread of misinformation online.

The researchers have made improvements to Hoaxy and Botometer and a third tool—an educational game that aims to make people smarter news consumers—also launches alongside the upgrades.

“You can now easily detect when information is spreading virally, and who is responsible for its spread.”

“The majority of the changes to Hoaxy and Botometer are specifically designed to make the tools more usable by journalists and average citizens,” says Filippo Menczer, a professor in the Indiana University School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering and a member of the Network Science Institute. “You can now easily detect when information is spreading virally, and who is responsible for its spread.”

Hoaxy is a search engine that shows users how stories from low-credibility sources spread on Twitter. Botometer is an app that assigns a score to Twitter users based on the likelihood that the account is automated.

Hoaxy’s new functions show users which stories are trending on Twitter, including those from low-credibility sources. It also indicates what proportion of the users who are spreading the stories are likely to be “bots.” Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, a research scientist at the Network Science Institute who is part of the team that developed the tools, previewed the new features at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas.

The new version of Botometer employs updated machine learning algorithms to identify “bots” with greater accuracy and is strongly integrated with Hoaxy. Users can observe not only how information spreads across Twitter, but also whether these messages are mostly shared by real people or pushed by a computer program potentially designed to sway public opinion.

Automated accounts are commonly meant to give the false impression that a large number of people are speaking about a specific topic online, Menczer says. Political campaigns, celebrities, and advertisers are known to use bots to push specific agendas or products.

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The updated Hoaxy also has a “trending stories” section that displays popular news stories along with claims from low-credibility sources. This is possible because Hoaxy can now trace the spread of any online news story or hashtag over time across Twitter. Previously, users could only analyze headlines from specific websites identified by nonpartisan groups as likely to post false or misleading information.

Ciampaglia says Hoaxy and Botometer currently process hundreds of thousands of daily online queries. The technology has enabled researchers, including a team at Indiana University, whose work on misinformation appears in PLOS ONE, to study how information flows online in the presence of bots. A study on the cover of the March issue of Science that analyzed the spread of false news on Twitter and an analysis from the Pew Research Center in April that found that nearly two-thirds of the links to popular websites on Twitter are shared by automated accounts are also examples of research related to the tools.

The newly launched project is Fakey, a web and mobile news literacy game that mixes news stories with false reports, clickbait headlines, conspiracy theories, and “junk science.” Players earn points by “fact-checking” false information and liking or sharing accurate stories. Graduate student Mihai Avram led the project to create a tool to help people develop responsible social media consumption habits. An Android app is available, and an iOS version will launch shortly.

All three tools are united through their creators’ goal to help individuals understand the role of misinformation online, Menczer says.

“By partnering with other groups,” he adds, “we’re able to significantly amplify the power of our work in the fight against online disinformation.”

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The Knight Prototype Fund on Misinformation, a joint venture of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the Democracy Fund supported the improvements to address concerns about the spread of misinformation and to build trust in quality journalism

Source: Indiana University