Tonight we’re conducting a big test of automated fact-checking. Users around the world will be able to get live fact-checks from the Washington Post, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org on our new FactStream app.
It’s an ambitious experiment that was assembled with unusual speed. Our team – lead developer Christopher Guess, project manager Erica Ryan and the designers from the Durham firm Registered Creative – built the app in just three months. We were still testing the app for bugs as recently as Sunday night (we found a couple and have fixed them!).
FactStream, part of the Duke Tech & Check Cooperative, is our name for apps that provide live fact-checking. This first version will rely on the fact-checkers to identify claims and then push out notifications. Future versions will be more automated.
We’re calling tonight’s effort a beta test because it will be the first time we’ve used the app for a live event. We’ve tested it thoroughly over the past month, but it’s possible (likely?) we could have some glitches. Some things that might happen:
- President Trump might make only a few factual claims in the speech. That could mean you see relatively few fact-checks.
- Technical problems with the app. We’ve spent many hours debugging the app, fixing problems that ranged from a scrolling glitch on the iPhone SE to a problem we called “the sleepy bug” that caused the app to stop refreshing. We think we’ve fixed them all. But we can’t be sure.
- Time zone problems. If you set an alert for tonight’s speech before we fixed a time zone bug this morning, you got a notification at 3 p.m. Eastern time today that said “2018 State of the Union Address will begin in fifteen minutes.” Um, no, it’s at 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. But we believe we’ve fixed the bug!
(I’m writing this at the suggestion of Reporters’ Lab co-director Mark Stencel, who notes that Elon Musk has highlighted video of his rockets exploding to make the point that tests can fail.)
Long road to reusabity of Falcon 9 primary boost stage…When upper stage & fairing also reusable, costs will drop by a factor >100. pic.twitter.com/WyTAQ3T9EP
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 14, 2017
The future of fact-checking is here. Our goal tonight is to test the app and explore the future of automated journalism. We’re excited to try – even if we encounter a few problems along the way.