System to find truth or fiction in online rumours

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A system to automatically assess whether online rumours are true or false is being developed with help from experts from Sheffield University.

Social networks have been used to spread all kinds of claims - so an ability to quickly verify information and track its provenance would enable journalists, governments, emergency services, health agencies and the private sector to respond more effectively.

Lead researcher Dr Kalina Bontcheva said: “There was a suggestion after the 2011 riots that social networks should have been shut down, to prevent the rioters using them to organise.

“But social networks also provide useful information – the problem is that it all happens so fast and we can’t quickly sort truth from lies. This makes it difficult to respond to rumours, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm. Our system aims to help with that, by tracking and verifying information in real time.”

The EU-funded project aims to classify online rumours into four types, speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation.

The system will also automatically categorise sources to assess their authority, such as news outlets, individual journalists, experts, potential eye witnesses, members of the public or automated ‘bots’. It will also look for a history and background, to help spot false information.