A lie detector for social media is being built to try to verify online rumours.
The system will analyse, in real time, whether a posting online is true.
It will also identify whether social media accounts have been created just to spread false information.
The aim is to help organisations, including governments and emergency services, to respond more effectively to events.
The project grew from research based on the use of social media during the London riots in 2011. The data being analysed will include posts on Twitter, comments in healthcare forums and public comments on Facebook.
The researchers say that online rumours will be classified into four types:
- Speculation – whether interest rates may rise, for example
- Controversy – similar to that over the MMR vaccine
- Misinformation – where something untrue is spread unwittingly
- Disinformation – where false information is spread with malicious intent
“There was a suggestion after the 2011 riots that social networks should have been shut down, to prevent the rioters using them to organise,” said Dr Kalina Bontcheva, lead researcher on the project at the University of Sheffield.
“But social networks also provide useful information. The problem is that it all happens so fast and we can’t quickly sort truth from lies.
“This makes it difficult to respond to rumours, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm,” she said.
The system will categorise the sources of information to assess their authority. Categories include news outlets, journalists, experts, eye witnesses, members of the public and bots – accounts that automatically generate social media posts.
It will also examine accounts for a history or background to try to identify whether the account has been created just to spread rumours.
Conversations on social networks will be studied to see how they evolve and sources will be checked to see if information can be confirmed or denied.
“Only text will be analysed,” said Dr Bontcheva.
“We will not be doing image analysis, so we won’t be looking to see if a photo has been altered – it’s too technically difficult.”
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