EU project to build lie detector for social media

In our digital age, rumours – both true and false - spread fast, often with far-reaching consequences. An international group of researchers, led by the University of Sheffield, is aiming to build a system that will automatically verify online rumours as they spread around the globe.

Social networks have been used to spread accusations of vote-rigging in Kenyan elections, allege that Barack Obama was Muslim and claim that the animals were set free from London Zoo during the 2011 riots. In all of these cases – and many more – 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, from the Department of Computer Science in the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering explains: “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 – such as whether interest rates might rise; controversy – as over the MMR vaccine; misinformation, where something untrue is spread unwittingly; and disinformation, where it’s done with malicious intent...

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