A group of college students from Yale University has developed a software that may be able to identify and combat fake news.
The software, called Open Mind, was conceived during Yale’s annual hackathon called “YHack.” The competition involves students developing software for a number of different tasks such as solving a social problem or starting a new business. The software will function as an extension for Google Chrome.
The software has two functions. First, it warns users whenever they click on a website that the students have deemed as likely to peddle fake news.
“[W]henever you visit one of those websites, you get a big red warning screen that says this is more than likely fake; please consider reading basically anything else. Here are some suggestions,” Stefan Uddenberg, one of four students who created the fake news detection program, told Red Alert Politics.
However, the software doesn’t censor its users.
“[I]f you really want to … you can click on this link to continue seeing the website you originally wanted to visit, even though it’s probably fake,” Uddenberg continued.
The second function of the software is to show alternative viewpoints to the user. Open Mind will offer related articles so users can see a different perspective.
“Suppose you’ve been reading a lot of articles about a particular politician that are very negative toward them. Our software would suggest to you articles about the same politician but maybe from the other side of the aisle, with a more positive spin on what that politician has been doing,” Uddenberg explained.
The software works to combat online news bias by trying to expose readers to articles on the same topics but from various perspectives. The solution to finding truth is more information, not less.
“We use a psychologically motivated approach to combating fake news using the latest insights from cognitive science and the power of machine learning,” Uddenberg, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, elaborated.
While technology is currently being developed to identify fake news on an article by article basis, this plugin works by identifying whole websites. The students don’t want users to perpetually rely on a machine, but rather hope to train the user to distinguish fact from opinion by showing that not all news from the other side is always necessarily false.
The prize for this Yale contest was for the team to brief Congress on their final product. The date for this presentation has yet to be determined. The Open Mind team hopes to explain their goals to Congress, provide an understanding of how Open Mind functions, and demonstrate that the software does, in fact, work by bringing user data and results from empirical studies, which the team hopes to conduct before the briefing.
Uddenberg says that “people from all walks of life — firefighters, teachers, and researchers” have shown interest in the software, and so far, the team has received more than 3,000 signups.
The students have also received criticism about the coming release of their software. People worry that the software will be used for nefarious means or to turn all left-wing views into right-wing views (and vice versa).
Uddenberg thinks that critics will change their minds once they try it out.
“The point of making this is that it is something that [the team], ourselves, wanted to use. I would very much like this tool in my own life so that I can see more news from the other side of the aisle,” he claimed.
Anyone interested in stepping outside of their online echo chamber and finding the truth should consider trying the software. Fake news, which President Trump so often decries, is plaguing the country through a massive dissemination of misinformation and deception.
This software may be the best available way to encourage all consumers of news to read more critically. For more information on the Open Mind software or to sign up for the beta release, readers can visit their website: openmind.press.
Kyle Turnage is a student at Virginia Tech.