Fake news is everywhere (apparently), but new fact-checking software aims to help journalists and the general public separate fact from fiction.

Fake news remains at the top of the global media agenda − or at least that’s what we’re being told.

Now, new software will alert journalists to false claims on television, in the press and in parliament.

Independent charity Full Fact is developing the automated system with the Office for National Statistics.

The software scans statements, references a database and instantly assesses whether or not they are true. Sources include subtitles of live news programmes, parliamentary broadcasts and newspaper articles.

Image: Full Fact


In addition, later versions of the system will automatically access official data.

“It is like trying to build an immune system,” Mevan Babakar, project manager at Full Fact in London, told the Guardian. “As more information goes out into the world that is wrong, what we don’t have is the means of pushing back against that.”

Fake news: a global problem

Full Fact is collaborating with similar groups Argentina, Nigeria and South Africa.

A real-time test of the system took place in parliament during a health debate. In another version of the system, facts appear on TV screens, giving viewers instant verdicts.

Furthermore, Twitter and Facebook users may also benefit from a future version that checks facts posted on social media.

“This is an important investment in the future of fact-checking,” said Stephen King, global lead on governance and citizen engagement at investment organisation the Omidyar Network. “These tools will expand the reach and impact of fact checkers around the world, ensuring citizens are properly informed and those in positions of power are held accountable.”

What is the truth?

The inevitable question is: what is the truth? Has the term come to mean something people dislike rather than something that is actually false? Babakar prefers ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’.

“I have a problem with the word truth, because that means different things to different people,” he said. “I think things are correct or incorrect.”

Charitable foundations backed by billionaires George Soros and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar are funding the new Full Fact software to the tune of £380,000.

Prior to the US election in 2016, Google introduced a new fact check feature in search results for news stories. In March, Facebook announced plans to pay fact-checkers to monitor news on its platforms.

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