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Using the crowd to verify the news

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Using the crowd to verify the news

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I’ve posted a few times recently on the way people search for information online.  For instance, in healthcare, it’s increasingly common for patients to arrive at their doctors armed with a degree of information about their condition that they curated online.  Of course, whether that information is accurate is another matter, but forearmed they undoubtedly are, and as such, doctors need to take account of that during their consultations.

There has also been a growing attempt to map and plot the way misinformation spreads through our various social networks.  For instance, a project launched this summer, and backed by the National Science Foundation and the US Army, aims to create a detailed understanding of the ways in which misinformation propagates.

A new tool that is taking a crowdsourced approach towards a similar goal is Grasswire.  Grasswire is a site that allows users to verify the validity of things they are reading online.  The site, which focuses specifically on breaking news, allows users to vote on topics in a style similar to that found on sites such as Reddit.

If users see something that is disputable, then they can both vote the content down whilst also posting a URL to a source that refutes that content.  A similar process, albeit in reverse, can also be used to confirm a particular story.

“It started really with just a few news junkies, people who are really sick of being lied to with information being spread around on YouTube and Twitter and all of these platforms that are completely unregulated,” the founders say. “There’s nothing to rope them in as far as accuracy goes. The tool was originally built for those people.”

The site launched around a month ago, so is still at a very early stage of its development, but the need for it is quite evident.  After all, research earlier this year showed that when it comes to political stories, most of the chatter on Twitter was actually retweets of extremely influential individuals.  Few people were making insightful comments of their own.  In such an environment, it’s easy to see how misinformation can be deliberately spread.

Hopefully, tools such as Grasswire can help to combat this trend.  Suffice to say, the more users that access the site, the more accurate any attempts to verify stories should be.  With initial seed funding secured, the hope has to be that the site grows from its nascent base to become a force for good in the news industry.

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