Facebook faced a lot of criticism about the proliferation of fake news on the social before and after the US election. The calls for Facebook to do something about it became strident after the election.
This is so because even the winner of the election, Donald Trump, is on record as saying Facebook played a big roll in his victory. The issue mainly is why Facebook hasn’t done anything about it.
Doing something about it is what four undergraduate students did to prove to Facebook engineers that it wasn’t rocket science to create a program that would detect fake news on the site. And it took them just one and half day.
The event was a hackathon that took place at Princeton University in the US.
What prompted the idea to germinate in the head of Nabanita De (one of the coders) were the many fake news on her Facebook timeline in the days leading up to the recent presidential election. The amount of misleading news literary scared her.
Because Facebook’s algorithm has being tweaked to determine what people on Facebook want to see or read, people often see and read the things that fit into their lifestyle and choices as determined by Facebook super cookies. Whether the new is real, fake or misleading does not matter to the machine-powered algorithm.
So at the hackathon where participants brainstorm on coding ideas and programming, she co-opted three other students to buy into her idea of coming up with a code that can filter out fake news from real news on Facebook.
Her partners agreed. It took them 36 hours of hard coding. But they finally came up with a solution.
The thing about good softwares or apps is that the final product gives the impression the whole gig was easy to make.
So it is with the final product of the students’ work. For us the end users, the simplicity and utility is what matters.
Nabanita De, with her partners, Anant Goel, a first year student of Purdue University; Mark Craft, who is in his second year at the university of Illinois and another second year undergraduate of the University of Illinois, Qinglin Chen, designed what turned out to be a simple browser extension.
Based on Chrome browser, the extension flags links posted on Facebook according to whether they are verified or not.
The variables the program takes into according before determining if a link is verified or not includes the credibility of the source and whether the content tallies with other news sources.
The final piece of the puzzle is the ability of the extension to give readers a credible version of the news in case the link is tagged as unverified. Basically giving Facebook users a better perspective of the same story; ultimately debunking the fake news.
The students called their new browser extension FiB and have released the software as an open-sourced program so that other developers around the world can lend a hand in making it better.
The enthusiasm for the software was far beyond what the students hoped for. This is because the server where they hosted the program for free download could not handle the deluge of demand.
The ball now is firmly in Facebook’s ball park to do something about fake news since it has being shown that it is possible to do it.
Perhaps Facebook thought the issue would die off after Google decided to tagged fake news on their news site. Maybe if the election had gone the way the world expected with a Clinton victory, nobody would be making so much news about the issue of fake news.
The truth is that fake news by their nature are serious click bait. People click on them more readily than real news because they are crafted to be outrageous and stuff like that attracts the attention of most people.
image credit; washingtonpost.com; npr.org; nbcnews.com; showbiz411.com