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Earlier this month in a 36-hour problem-solving hackathon at Yale University, a team of four students developed a plug-in, “Open Mind,” to detect fake news.    This team is “getting attention from internet companies and Congress after developing a browser extension that alerts users to fake and biased news stories and helps guide them to more balanced coverage,” according to Associated Press (AP). (Report by Pat Eaton-Robb)

The winning team of the hackathon consists of four students from world’s top universities:

  • Michael Lopez-Brau and Stefan Uddenberg, both doctoral students in Yale’s psychology department,
  • Alex Cui, an undergraduate who studies machine learning at the California Institute of Technology,
  • and Jeff An, who studies computer science at the University of Waterloo and business at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario.

About the Anti-Fake-News Plug-in

According to AP’s report:

  1. The plug-in is an extension for Google’s Chrome browser.
  2. It can display a warning screen when someone is known to disseminate fake news on a site.
  3. It also will warn a reader if a story shared on social media is fake or biased.
  4. The plug-in can analyze any story that might appear in a newsfeed, identifying the major players and any political slant. It then can suggest to the reader other stories on the same topic that have an alternate viewpoint.   For example, “let’s say there is an article that is very pro-Trump on a topic,” said An. “We would then try to give you something more left of center. We can go out and find for you that alternative article.”
  5. The extension also collects browsing data and can show a user a graph that indicates whether they have been reading stories from just one side of a political spectrum. It curates a news feed for that user, showing alternative stories to the ones they have been reading.

“Social media sites grow bubbles,” said Lopez-Brau. “They make it extremely easy for people to only follow people with similar interests, so often there is no real opportunity for them to be confronted with an opposing viewpoint. They’ve allowed us to silo people off at a distance.”

Opportunities Better & Bigger Than Prizes

  1. The winning team is going to have a meeting with members of Congress this coming spring.
  2. Facebook, which has been fighting fake news on its site and was one of the sponsors of Yale’s hackathon, is also interested in talking to the students.
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