A team of five students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design recently won a “fake news” hackathon for their 3-pronged approach to tackling a problem that has dominated the media since the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The hackathon was organized by Google, the Media Literacy Council, the National University of Singapore, and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and was held at Google’s Asia Pacific Office in Pasir Panang, Singapore.
The student participants — 140 in all — were tasked with the challenge of creating technological solutions to fight against fake news.
The winning team from SUTD — all freshmen — won first place for presenting a new approach to the fake news problem.
The team’s approach involves three prongs, as team member Brandon Ong described to Business Insider.
The first of these prongs is “The Crawler,” which consists of an internet-based crawler, or systematic browser program, analyzing how credible each online article is by way of information separately stored in a digital database.
The second prong comes in the form of a Google Chrome extension, which any user can download following the creation of the database. Once users install and activate the extension, it will provide a credibility rating — ranging from 0 to 100 percent — for each article the user opens. A key factor in the process of analyzing each article’s credibility will be the natural and objective language used. Ong hopes that in the future, this process can used to determine the credibility of the news source itself.
The third and final prong of this approach involves a community crowd sourcing platform similar to Quora or Reddit that will allow users to rank the articles they read — from 0 to 10 — in terms of credibility.
The team didn’t expect to win, Ong told the Business Insider, but entered just for the learning experience.
The organizers themselves didn’t know what to expect from a group that’s so connected technologically, but were impressed by the breadth and variety of proposed solutions.
“When organising the hackathon we weren’t entirely certain of how students, who today live in such a connected and media saturated world, perceive or even conceive of the problem of fake news,” said Sun Sun Lim, professor of media and communication and head of humanities, arts and social sciences at SUTD. “Do they merely regard it as part and parcel of the media flood they consume daily, a mere annoyance to be ignored, or do they in fact recognize the significant social costs of fake news and wish to do something to stem it? Eventually, we were floored by the multi-disciplinary perspectives they brought to their understanding of the problem, and the diversity of creative solutions they proposed.”
Lim believes that fake news will continue to be a threat in the future and that a combination of technological tools and individual education would be necessary to combat it.
“Going forward, fake news purveyors are likely to be even more innovative in terms of how they produce and disseminate the news so as to maintain or even grow their share of eyeballs,” she said. “There is a high likelihood of them using even more sophisticated ‘stealth’ techniques than those they currently employ. So any solutions to fake news can certainly utilise technological tools but they must be combined with approaches that can inculcate literacy skills in individuals. Ultimately individual discernment is the best tool to combat the spread of fake news.”
Samuel O’Brient grew up in western Massachusetts, though most of his days are spent at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester, New York. His time there is spent studying business communications and serving as editor in chief of the SLC Economic Review. As a writer, journalist, and blogger, he has written for many different online venues on a variety of topics. When he’s not working on his blog, Samuel can often be found sailing, on the golf course, or on the tennis court.