Social Media Lie Detector Sorts Fact from Rumor

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Internet trolls and anarchists beware: European computer scientists are working on a system to separate fact from false rumor online.

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If all goes well, the lie-detector will be able to categorize an online rumor as speculation, controversy, misinformation or disinformation. Then it will automatically assess the source, zeroing in on factors like automated bots and newly created Twitter accounts, according to the press release. Finally it will display the results on a dashboard, making the truth easier to spot.

The detector is part of a three-year project called Pheme, named after the personification of fame and rumor in Greco-Roman mythology. Five universities and four companies are collaborating on it, with the University of Sheffield at the helm. The system isn’t intended for deciphering celebrity gossip — although that would be amazing. Instead, Pheme has more serious aims, the BBC reported.

Currently it’s not possible to automatically analyze, in real time, whether a piece of information is true or false, according to Kalina Bontcheva, a senior researcher at the University of Sheffield who is leading the project. “his is what we’ve now set out to achieve,” she said in a press release.

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The Pheme team plans to test the system out on digital journalists in Switzerland at Swissinfo.ch and in a healthcare setting with the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. The EU-funded project could help emergency responders, government officials and journalists quickly debunk unfounded rumors that crop up on social media. In the meantime, there’s an old-fashioned technique called asking questions.

Photo: The “Mouth of Truth” in Rome. Scientists are working on a lie detector for online rumors. Credit: Shadowgate, Flickr Creative Commons.