Researcher from Romania develops algorithm to detect fake news

University of Michigan professor Rada Mihalcea has developed an algorithm that outperforms humans at spotting fake news.

Delia Budurca
Delia Budurca NewsMavens, Romania
Researcher from Romania develops algorithm
to detect fake news - NewsMavens
Rada Mihalcea, YouTube

Why this story matters:

A team of researchers led by Rada Mihalcea developed an algorithm that can tell the difference between real and fake news with better success rates than humans. The AI system could be used by social media platforms, search engines and news aggregators to filter out articles meant to misinform.

"Like everyone else, we have been disturbed by the negative effect that fake news can have in major political events and daily life”, said Rada Mihalcea, the University of Michigan computer science professor who developed the system, to Digital Trends.

"My group has done a significant amount of work on deception detection over nearly ten years. We saw an opportunity to address a major societal problem via the expertise we accumulated over the years."

The system demonstrated a 76% success rate at spotting fake news articles, compared to around 70% for humans.

To train their system, the researchers converted linguistic features such as punctuation and word choice into data, then fed that data into an algorithm.

The system can’t completely compensate for humans, however. For one, it doesn’t fact check, so well-intentioned -- but ultimately false -- content will still slip through.

Details from the story:

  • The researchers developed a linguistic algorithm that analyzes written speech and looks for cues such as grammatical structure, punctuation, and complexity, which may offer telltale signs of fake news. Since many of today’s news aggregators and social media sites rely on human editors to spot misinformation, an automated system could help streamline the process.
  • “Interestingly, what algorithms look for is not always what people to look for,” Mihalcea said. “In this and other research we have done on deception, we have found for instance that the use of the word "I" is associated with truth. It is easy for an algorithm to count the number of times "I" is said, and find the difference. People however do not do such counting naturally, and while it may be easy, it would distract them from the actual understanding of the text.”
  • Recently, the system was presented in detail at the International Conference on Computational Linguistics in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • Mihalcea envisions such a system helping both news aggregators and end users distinguish between true and intentionally false stories.
  • Rada Mihalcea graduated from The Computer Science High school in Cluj Napoca, Romania, then studied at Oxford University and now is a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, USA.  
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