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Fake Facebook News Can Be Detected by an Algorithm Created by College Students

Iain Masterton

A group of college students has created an algorithm used to detect fake Facebook news following the recent spike in illegitimate, politically charged articles that circulated online ahead of Election Day.

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Anant Goel (a freshman at Purdue University), Nabanita De (international second-year master’s student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and Qinglin Chen and Mark Craft, (both sophomores at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), have created a computer program called FiB to help stop the spread of fake news articles on the social networking platform.

According to The Washington Post, the students built the mechanism — a Chrome extension app — in just 36 hours at Princeton’s recent hackathon event. The newspaper reports that Goel, De, Chen and Craft’s algorithm has the ability to identify reliable articles and false news, and can label them as such.

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Users are able to tag news articles as “verified” or “not verified,” which then prompts FiB to cross-check that specific source with other similar — or completely opposite — news reports on the internet. If FiB deems the story untrustworthy, it will provide a link to a dependable source on the topic.

Though Facebook and Google sponsored Princeton’s hackathon, The Washington Post reports that neither company has yet to reach out to the students to chat with them about their creation.

Donald Trump and HIllary Clinton
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak during the second U.S. presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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As previously reported by BuzzFeed News, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets in the final stretch before then–Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump triumphed over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

According to an analysis conducted by the site, false clickbait articles dominated views and shares on Facebook in the past three months. The site reported that 17 of Facebook’s top 20 fake articles were pro-Trump and anti-Clinton. The top 20 stories were collectively shared, liked or commented on more than 8.7 million times.

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While campaigning for Clinton, 69, on November 7 in Michigan, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of inaccurate Facebook articles.

“And people, if they just repeat attacks enough, and outright lies over and over again, as long as it’s on Facebook and people can see it, as long as it’s on social media, people start believing it,” Obama, 55, said during a speech at the University of Michigan. “And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense.”

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In response to criticism from social media users who believe fake articles should be banned from Facebook, the website’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, shot down the idea that such posts had any effect on this year’s election results.

“I think the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election in any way, I think is a pretty crazy idea,” he said during a November 10 tech conference.

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