FactStream

New Tech & Check projects will provide pop-up fact-checking

With advances in artificial intelligence and the growing use of the ClaimReview schema, Reporters' Lab researchers are developing a new family of apps that will make pop-up fact-checking a reality

By Julianna Rennie – January 16, 2018 | Print this article

The dream of automated “pop-up” fact-checking has been around for years. The idea is that as you’re watching a political speech or a campaign debate, fact-checks would pop onto your screen in real time.

That has always seemed like a distant dream. A 2015 report on “The Quest to Automate Fact-Checking” called that dream “the Holy Grail” but said it “may remain far beyond our reach for many, many years to come.”

Since then, computer scientists and journalists have made tremendous progress and are inching closer to the Holy Grail. Here in the Reporters’ Lab, we’ve received $1.2 million in grants to make automated fact-checking a reality.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative, funded by Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation, is an effort to use automation to help fact-checkers research factual claims and broaden the audience for their work. The project will include about a half-dozen pop-up apps that will provide fact-checking on smartphones, tablets and televisions.

One key to the pop-up apps is a uniform format for fact-checks called the ClaimReview schema. Developed through a partnership of Schema.org, the Reporters’ Lab, Jigsaw and Google, it provides a standard tagging system for fact-checking articles that makes it easier for search engines and apps to identify the details of a fact-check. ClaimReview, which can be created using the Share the Facts widget developed by the Reporters’ Lab, will enable future apps to quickly find relevant fact-checking articles.

“Now, I don’t need to scrape 10 different sources and try to wrangle permission because there’s this database that will be growing increasingly,” says Dan Schultz, senior creative technologist at the Internet Archive.

This works because politicians repeat themselves. For example, many politicians and analysts have claimed that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate.

FactStreamThe Reporters’ Lab is developing several pop-up apps that will deliver fact-checking in real time. The apps will include:

  • FactStream, which will display relevant fact-checks on mobile devices during a live event. The first version, to be tested this month during the State of the Union address Jan. 30, will be a “manual” version that will rely on fact-checkers. When they hear a claim that they’ve checked before, the fact-checkers will compose a message containing the URL of the fact-check or a brief note about the claim. That message will appear in the FactStream app on a phone or tablet.
  • FactStream TV, which will use platforms such as Chromecast or Apple TV for similar pop-up apps on television. The initial versions will also be manual, enabling fact-checkers to trigger the notifications.

Another project, Truth Goggles, will be a plug-in for a web browser that will automatically scan a page for content that users should think about more carefully. Schultz, who developed a prototype of Truth Goggles as a grad student at the MIT Media Lab, will use the app to experiment with different ways to present accurate information and help determine which methods are most valuable for readers.

The second phase of the pop-up apps will take the human fact-checker out of the equation. For live events, the apps will rely on voice-to-text software and then match with the database of articles marked with ClaimReview.

The future apps will also need natural language processing (NLP) abilities. This is perhaps the biggest challenge because NLP is necessary to reflect the complexities of the English language.

“Human brains are very good at [NLP], and we’re pretty much the only ones,” says Chris Guess, the Reporters’ Lab’s chief technologist for Share the Facts and the Tech & Check Co-op. Programming a computer to understand negation or doublespeak, for instance, is extremely difficult.

Another challenge comes from the fact that there are few published fact-checks relative to all of the claims made in conversation or articles. “The likelihood of getting a match to the 10,000 or so stored fact-checks will be low,” says Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab.

Ideally, computers will eventually research and write the fact checks, too. “The ultimate goal would be that it could pull various pieces of information out, use that context awareness to do its own research into various data pools across the world, and create unique and new fact-checks,” Guess says.

The Reporters’ Lab is also developing tools that can help human fact-checkers. The first such tool uses ClaimBuster, an algorithm that can find claims fact-checkers might want to examine, to scan transcripts of newscasts and public events and identify checkable claims.

“These are really hard challenges,” Schultz said. “But there are ways to come up with creative ways around them.”

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Knight Foundation, Facebook and Craig Newmark provide funding to launch Duke Tech & Check Cooperative

New automated fact-checking project will build apps and coordinate with other researchers around the world

By Bill Adair – September 25, 2017 | Print this article

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project and the Craig Newmark Foundation are awarding grants to the Duke University Reporters’ Lab for a $1.2 million project to automate fact-checking.

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will bring together teams from universities and the Internet Archive to develop new ways to automate fact-checking and broaden the audience for this important new form of journalism.

During the two-year project, computer scientists and journalism faculty from Duke, the University of Texas at Arlington and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo will build a variety of new tools and apps. Some will help journalists with time-consuming reporting tasks, such as mining transcripts, media streams and social feeds for the most important factual claims. Others will provide instant pop-up fact-checking during live events.

The Reporters’ Lab will also coordinate and share its automation efforts with journalists and computer scientists across the country and around the world. The Tech & Check Cooperative will connect the leaders of similar projects through its relationships with the International Fact-Checking Network, the global association of fact-checkers, and awardees of Knight Prototype Fund grants to address misinformation. The Lab will host an annual meeting and will hold regular video conferences.

Knight has provided $800,000 for the project and the Facebook Journalism Project has contributed $200,000. The Newmark Foundation has pledged $200,000.

A multitude of people and solutions are required to tackle the problem of misinformation in the digital age. The Reporters’ Lab is tackling the issue through an effective, multi-pronged approach, bringing together a network of journalists and technologists to build new tools that will promote the flow of accurate news, while strengthening their connections with major technology companies,” said Jennifer Preston, the vice president for journalism at Knight Foundation.

“The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative will tap into the power of technology to improve and expand fact-checking on a global scale,” said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook. “This important initiative will bring together some of the most respected experts in the industry along with new digital innovations to create practical and efficient tools for journalists and newsrooms.”

 “News consumers like me want the truth, which requires more and better fact-checking,” said Newmark, founder of craigslist and the Craig Newmark Foundation. “The Duke University Tech & Check Cooperative will soon become a vital part of the fact-checking network, and I’m excited to work with them to help build a system of information we can trust.”

The Tech & Check Cooperative will incorporate technology and content developed in Share the Facts, a Duke Reporters’ Lab partnership with the Google News Lab and Jigsaw. Share the Facts provides a way for the world’s fact-checkers to identify their articles for search engines and apps.

“Automated fact-checking is no longer just a dream,” said Bill Adair, the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke and the leader of the Tech & Check Cooperative. “Advances in artificial intelligence will soon make it possible to provide people with real-time information about what’s true and what’s not.”

Partners in the Tech & Check Cooperative include:

● The University of Texas at Arlington, which has developed ClaimBuster, a tool that can mine lengthy transcripts for claims that fact-checkers might want to examine.

● The Internet Archive, which will help develop a “Talking Point Tracker” that will identify factual claims that are used repeatedly by politicians and pundits.

● Truth Goggles, a project created by developer Dan Schultz and the Bad Idea Factory to provide pop-up fact-checking for articles on the web.

● Digital Democracy, an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, which will develop ways to identify factual claims from video of legislative proceedings in California.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit  knightfoundation.org.

About Facebook

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.

The Facebook Journalism Project was created in January 2017 to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry.  FJP focuses on three pillars: collaborative development of new products; tools and trainings for journalists; and tools and trainings for people.

About Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark is a Web pioneer, philanthropist, and leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism, voting rights, veterans and military families, and other civic and social justice causes. In 2017, he became a founding funder and executive committee member of the News Integrity Initiative, administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which seeks to advance news literacy and increase trust in journalism.

About the Reporters’ Lab

The Duke Reporters’ Lab is a project of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at the Sanford School of Public Policy. The Lab conducts research into fact-checking and explores how automation can be used to help journalists and broaden audiences for their work.

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