Tool monitors spread of fake news through social media

Indiana University researchers have developed a tool for monitoring the spread of fake news stories via social media.

Dubbed Hoaxy, the search engine examines websites featuring news content and compares it with sites that are known to post satire, hoaxes and conspiracy theories. Hoaxy by itself doesn’t determine whether a story is real but by providing the background enables the users to make an informed judgement.

The website also tracks links to the stories on Twitter and Facebook so users can see how frequently the stories have been shared.

“It is a very serious problem,” said Filippo Menczer, the director of the Indiana University's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, which launched Hoaxy.

“Social media makes it more likely that I am more exposed to false information that I am likely to believe.”

Although misinformation and propaganda is not a new phenomenon, the advent of social media catapulted the problem into another level as the networks automatically pre-select content to be in line with what people have liked previously.

Menczer said he started looking into the phenomenon of false news in a research experiment several years ago. He created a website with celebrity stories clearly marked as fake and promoted them on social bookmarking websites that were popular at the time. A month after launching the site he received a check for ad revenue from the site.

“That early experiment demonstrated the power of the internet to monetize false information,” he said.

Hoaxy is accessible for free to reporters, researchers and the public. If a user suspects a story is false they can search it in the website to see how it was spread and to what degree it went viral.

“There is no editorial judgment,” Menczer said in an interview. “We don't look at the claims, or vet them, or say they are true or false. You can observe who are the hubs, who are the main spreaders and most influential who have spread these claims and fact-checks.”

News and tech companies including Facebook and Twitter are also trying to tackle fake news and have formed a coalition to improve the quality of information on social media. 

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