Questions for ‘Scientists enlist computers to hunt down fake news’


Fake news doesn’t really come with a handy label to tell us when it’s not to be believed. That puts the responsibility on readers and others to ferret out lies masquerading as truth. Several computer systems are now under development to aid — but not replace — humans in fact-checking news.


To accompany feature ‘Scientists enlist computers to hunt down fake news’


Before Reading

1. How would you define “fake” news? What do you do to identify it in the newsfeeds on your phone and computer?

2. Where have you heard about fake news? Give one example that’s been in the news. How did people identify it as bogus? 

During Reading

1. The story refers to a BuzzFeed News analysis. What did it show?

2. What is confirmation bias? Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia’s team has built a computer-based fact-checking system that works how? In tests, how well has it worked, based on what you read?

3. The system being developed by Benjamin Horne and Sibel Adali takes a different approach. What criteria does it search for when it judges the truthfulness of a news story?

4. In testing, how accurate has the Horne-Adali system shown itself to be?

5. Why does Alex Kasprak think people will always need to be part of the fact-checking system for news?

6. Juan Cao’s group in China analyzed tweets to scout out bogus news accounts. How does it work?

7. Another Chinese team, led by Daqing Li, did not analyze the topic of stories to hunt down the suspicious ones. What was their approach?

8. Some social-media platforms have suggested trying to label stories suspected of being untrue. Why do Gordon Pennycook and David Rand suspect this could backfire?

9. What strategy has Facebook taken to limit the spread of fake news, according to company spokesperson Lauren Svensson?

10. Why does research by Fabiana Zollo and Walter Quattrociocchi suggest that tactic may not work?

After Reading:

1. Collect three science or medicine stories reported on the internet by different news sites and then fact-check them. How well did the facts that they reported hold up? Identify which sources you used to establish the trustworthiness of the reporting. (Hint: If you’re having troubling knowing where to start, read Fact checking: How to think like a journalist and Fake news: How not to fall for it.

2. Go to the internet and download three versions of the same story from different news outlets. Choose one produced by a newspaper, one by a TV-news outlet and a third by another news outlet. How do they compare in the detail they provide? How do they compare in the certainty they offer about the findings? How many sources have they cited to establish facts or skepticism of the reported findings? Which did you find most believable? Which was least believable or least satisfying? Explain your assessments.