Open Mind blocks fake news


By Adam Earnheardt

Fake news is bad.

Thankfully, snopes.com and similar sites identify fake news for us, but only when we use their services.

Most of us are lazy when it comes to reading news. We don’t fact-check.

Understandably, we leave the fact-checking to the people who wrote the news.

Couple the challenge of fake news with our own political leanings, and the ability to get people to listen to other sides becomes a daunting, if not impossible, task.

Here’s why: ask liberals or conservatives which newspapers, websites, radio or TV channels they use and, depending on political bent, you’ll see little overlap in the names of their preferred news outlets.

Think of it as Fox News versus CNN. The probability of hearing different points-of-view is low.

To improve this probability, a team of college students invented a new Google browser plug-in (i.e., extension) called Open Mind, as means for blocking fake news, and for introducing readers to alternative opinions.

The application was created during a 36-hour, student-run hack-a-thon at Yale University. Think of a hack-a-thon as teams of super smart students competing to solve big problems.

In this case, the big problem was fake news.

“[Open Mind] does two things,” said Michael Lopez-Brau, Yale doctoral student and co-designer of Open Mind. “It warns users of potential fake news sites and suggests news articles from the other side of the aisle.”

When users visit a news site, Open Mind checks to see if it’s in one of the plug-ins rigorously-tested, community-curated fake news databases.

“If so, we warn users with a pop-up and tell them why the site was marked as fake news.” Lopez-Brau said.

To be clear, Open Mind is not professing to be the arbiter of truth. And they’re not censoring sites. They invite users to suggest sites that should be reviewed, and they give users the option to click past the warning.

To build their fake news database, the team used credible sources including Open Sources and B.S. Detector. Their database now includes some 1,400 sites. Many of these sites play on misspellings and nearly identical logos for trusted news sites, such as “MSNBC.co,” a fake news site meant to resemble MSNBC.com.

Open Mind also analyzes the news articles that users read. “If we detect that a user is frequently reading articles with a certain bias, our extension will suggest related articles,” Lopez-Brau said. However, the suggested articles offer different points of view.

“This works for people all over the political spectrum,” Lopez-Brau added.

The extension aims to provide users with a sort of political immune system that can assist them in achieving a more balanced news diet.

The team is planning to release a beta version of Open Mind by the middle of next month. You can sign up for Open Mind at openmind.press, and be sure to give them some feedback.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn. Have a column idea? Email him at acearnheardt@gmail.com

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