Inspiration

Russia’s fake news ads on Facebook were seen by over 25% of registered voters in the USA before the election completed. This fact alone shows that current tools to fight fake news aren't getting the job done.

Currently, the main tool to combat fake news is professional fact-checking websites like snopes.com. However, these sites do very little to actually combat the spread of fake news; human fact-checkers can't read every article on the internet, so they prioritize ones that have already spread. Additionally, these sites are mostly available as web apps; they don't reflect the fact that an increasing number of people read news on their smartphones.

We decided there must be a better solution, and we believe it lies in crowdsourcing. Just like Wikipedia is the most up-to-date encyclopedia, we believe that Redlines can become the most up-to-date source for information about fake news articles. In theory, Redlines can quickly and reliably identify fake articles by using the speed of crowdsourcing, and notify people of their disreputability before they go viral.

What it does

Redlines is an iOS app that allows users to search for news articles by url or title. An informative page for each article contains a wiki that's editable by anyone, and can contain any information that might be relevant to the credibility of the article. People can also vote on whether they believe that each article is fake. However, in order to edit or vote, people must log in with Facebook, which should reduce the amount of trolls and spammers.

Redlines also has top charts listing the "most fake" news article of all time (according to the crowd). This allows people to see what articles and sources are the most controversial, then make their own decisions about whether or not to trust a source.

By developing for mobile first, we make the application available to more people in developing countries, since many people in these countries only access the internet on their phone. We also make effective use of the VoiceOver accessibility feature on iOS. This makes it even easier for people with a vision impairment to get information about fake news. However, we recognize that many people still read news on their computer, so we mocked out a chrome extension that warns a user when they visit a website in their desktop browser that has been voted disreputable.

How we built it

The iOS app is built in the Swift language using the Xcode IDE and the model-view-controller design pattern. It communicates via PHP scripts with a SQL database on Azure. The Chrome extension mockup is built with JavaScript/HTML/CSS.

Challenges we ran into

The most notable challenge we faced was connecting the Azure database with the iOS app. To solve this problem, we wrote PHP scripts to query the database, then hosted those on Azure and called them in the iOS app via endpoints. This is a relatively trivial solution, but it was still difficult for because we hadn't done it before, and we never got it quite right.

Additionally, none of us had worked on a Chrome extension before, so we ran into many issues an ultimately came up short in getting it full database querying functionality.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Working together as a group of four was a great accomplishment. We did a good job dividing the work, and each of us fell into a role that made good use of our skills.

Additionally, we are proud that we were able to make a relatively complete prototype, which can actually solve the problem we set out to fix.

What we learned

We learned a lot, especially about coordinating as a team and connecting different pieces of the project!

What's next for Redlines

Although we are marketing Redlines as a fake news service, it can actually be used to crowdsource fact-checking for any URL on the internet. The immediate next steps are to expand our use cases and implement/improve functionality.

We would love to move Redlines past beta and publish it on the App Store. Then, we can start building a user base to make use of the crowdsourcing features.

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