The problem your project solves: How to detect harmful disinformation on covid? When is it the right time to debunk it?

With the COVID-19 worldwide crisis, an unprecedented wave of misinformation has been observed online. Unfortunately, disinformation has swept across continents confusing the public about fake treatments, false rumours about the disease, exacerbated fears and conspiracy theories.

This “disinfodemic” surge brings new challenges for social network analysis to help understand more specifically how disinformation about the pandemic spreads, by which actors and websites it is promoted, how rumours and fake news are spreading across countries. Therefore, journalists, fact-checkers and health authorities are overwhelmed by the amount of disinformation and rumours. Due to the amount of work they’re facing, they need to be able to focus on the more impactful disinformation in order to debunk it and avoid its spread, and potential dramatic consequences.

Our solution: automated retrieval of debunks and occurences of disinformation campaign

Building upon an incipient Twitter social network analysis feature to be released in the InVID-WeVerify verification plugin (used by 25k journalists and fact-checkers worldwide), we are developing new features to reveal accounts and websites spreading disinformation as well as highlighting possible disinformation cross-postings around networks.

We think the solution is to allow journalists, fact-checkers and health authorities to:

  1. Check if the disinformation has already been debunked, in order to spare resources and thus, focus on emerging disinformation
  2. Evaluate impact of disinformation: how many times it is shared, by whom, in order to only debunk stories that are starting to be massively shared

The goal is to provide quickly to journalists, fact-checkers, civil society, means to retrieve meaningful data about the spread of COVID-19 misinformation such as:

  • access to cross-networks debunks and search engines,
  • automatic information retrieval of lists and graphs of accounts / websites / hashtags promoting rumours and fake news, in order to find their origin (accounts, countries).

What have we done during the weekend?

We have crowdsourced a couple of questions on social networks (Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook) on what makes the COVID-19 disinfodemic wave different from other disinformation and what are accordingly the needs and difficulties of journalists, fact-checkers, NGO’s, Health professionals. We got a few responses (massive scale, cross-network, harmful) and it helped us to prioritize our work.

Then we worked on designing two new features and on integrating open source intelligence tools to improve our social network analysis module with graph visualisation.

At the end of the hackathon, we make available through our plugin (development version):

  • A search engine providing debunks already published by reliable sources around a query (for instance a hashtag or a combination of terms such as “Coronavirus 5G”)
  • A search engine providing occurences of a query (for instance a hashtag or a combination of terms such as “Coronavirus 5G”) on 10 social networks
  • An improved Twitter analytics module that crawls quantitative data on how much a hashtag has been used and a visualisation of clusters of Twitter accounts spreading disinformation.

The solution’s impact to the crisis

Our solution, integrated into the InVID-WeVerify verification plugin will:

  • help its 25k users to save time, be more efficient and find much more quickly COVID-19 related debunks and cross-network information by integrating many sources in one tool.
  • Recruit new users such as public health authorities, using these new functionalities to detect dangerous disinformation and issue warnings on public health harms

The necessities in order to continue the project

As disinformation is spreading as never before, we need to empower fact-checkers, journalists and the civil society (NGOs), media literacy, with tools that help them to debunk falsity. Therefore, we need to integrate other Open Source Investigation tools inside our plugin. Our main necessity will be to keep maintaining the plugin with a growing number of users, and therefore to scale the servers workload.

The value of your solution(s) after the crisis

Covid-19 will remain on top of the news during many months, maybe years. Our solution will allow our 25k users to follow new rumours, disinformation campaigns and check for debunks worldwide.

Debunking quickly and efficiently is key to avoid disinformation virality. Our plugin is a all-in-one toolbox, which allows us to regularly add new tools but also our users to be trained regularly with new methodologies, in order to improve their work and their impact.

Our plugin is open source under MIT licence. It is used by fact-checkers and journalists in 185 countries to verify information.

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