On the 15th of January, 2018, uCheck will be released online. Its purpose is in its name: allowing you, the reader, to check that what you read in the news is true. The site will bring you together with a great community of other readers, journalists, researchers and fact-checkers, with one common purpose: to spread the truth, and get better at it day after day.
Pre-register to uCheck here
Why a platform to fight misinformation?
In an era of increasing information disorder, our society is facing the problems of omnipresent misinformation, lowered quality standards in the media industry, and consequently, distrust with the media and institutions. Trust, in general, is the heart of the matter — the acceleration of information flows and the changes in the news consumption market leave readers and professionals in a situation where the old gatekeeping mechanisms are lost.
We trust the media less than ever, let alone politicians and elected officials. Many new voices are available on the web, and whilst on the one hand this has led to a more democratic information environment, it has also led to a more confusing one. Propaganda and fake information are published as a means of making easy money, with rushed and incorrect content spreading as fast as ever. Good, even great journalism still exists, sometimes enhanced by the new technologies at our disposal, but it’s harder to find amidst the chaos.
Many are looking to technology in the quest to build mechanisms to protect the information ecosystem. Upcoming projects, like the one by Full Fact, put Artificial Intelligence at the centre of the struggle to recognise false claims whenever they appear in the ever-expanding realm of the world wide web. We also think that these approaches are necessary, but we take a different one — one that puts the people that read and produce news at its very centre.
How it works?
uCheck is a gamified social platform with many purposes: debating the data in the news, sharing contextual information, collectively voting on claims and content that appear online, and warning readers immediately if what they are reading might be incorrect or misleading.
Contributors can open verifications on any piece of information they find online, and vote the accuracy of that content by adding contextual information in the form of links. Other contributors can join the verification and sum their vote to the links offered by others or add additional information. Commenting is kept to a minimum to avoid flaming, while information sharing from external sources is encouraged and rewarded.
Verifications look like this:
Not all contributors have the same impact on the verification process, but all can increase their impact greatly over the long run. uCheck works on a reputation system based on points which can be earned outside the platform, for example by publishing on a fact-checking website, or inside the platform via meaningful participation. We use gamification strategies to encourage contributors to verify their identity, collaborate and add value to the platform. This way, they can increase their status in the community and impact on the debates.
uCheck is based on social interaction. Contributors can follow top fact-checkers as well as each other to be aware of the social activity of the people whose opinions they are interested in, or with which they would like to debate. Future development will include an algorithm to suggest contributors to interact with on media whom they otherwise might not, in addition to the possibility of following specific issues in which they have expertise.
Together with the social platform, uCheck also is a browser extension that allows everyone who downloads it to be alerted if any of the page contents they are reading are being, or have been, verified. This way, readers can immediately recognise false or misleading contents in addition to verified content and if there is any open debate on that article.
Through the extension, the user can see what link has been voted as the most apt to fact-check, or confirm, the data debated. The user is also able to open verifications on the text they are reading directly from the articles themselves.
Along with this functionality, the extension is also connected to our database of untrustworthy websites, updated regularly by our team, in order to provide an additional layer of warning to everybody who downloads it.
Why we focus on debate and context?
The information disorder is a strange animal. You have news that is completely fake, often published as clickbait contents in order to get some advertising revenue. You’ve got propaganda. You’ve got articles written in a rush, or by people not knowledgeable enough who end up spreading simplifications or rumours. You’ve also got conspiracies and pseudo-science, in addition to articles on science published on mainstream media that often miss the point.
uCheck verifications do get to conclusions, sometimes, but the dividing line between true and false is not always that clear. That’s why we believe that apart from the resolutions, there is immense value in the process itself. Whilst some content is just patently false, news is full of subtle imprecisions and affirmations that show only one side of the coin.
Through any verification page, contributors offer additional material to prove their point, connecting the dots between valuable information on the internet. It’s a gathering of contextual information, where collective intelligence, algorithms and the reputation system are combined in order to increase probabilities that the most valuable contents are the most accessible.
The three-column structure of the verification page is designed to list many viewpoints in an ordered way, and therefore shows many points of view on one issue, breaking the filter bubble in which we so often fall on social media.
The uCheck experience
Become a fact-checker — this is the motto of uCheck, and we hope professional fact-checkers won’t be mad at us for saying so.
Fact-checking is the act of checking assertions and data from statements or texts and determining their veracity. Professionals often need to make long investigations in order to assess the correctness of a statement, a work that requires both method and knowledge. However, the internet is packed with incorrect information and often the data needed to disprove it has already been published, somewhere else, on the internet.
When we say, ‘become a fact-checker’, we mean that an informed reader can help in connecting those dots whilst getting their research approved by other contributors to make it visible to everyone.
Moreover, we believe that some of the tools that fact-checkers employ in their everyday work can be learned and integrated in the process of reading. A certain form of attention, the desire to double-check data, the coolness of not accepting some information just because it goes well with your beliefs or biases, are just some examples.
Through participation, contributors can learn these strategies and identify themselves with the role of the fact-checker. Our gamified experience gives contributors rewards for sharing information, researching, participating, and for making the correct calls when they vote.
WANT TO BE THE FIRST TO TRY UCHECK? SIGNUP AND WE’LL NOTIFY YOU AS SOON AS UCHECK BETA IS LIVE.
Confirmation bias causes us to become more likely to believe information that is in line with our views, and therefore, the desire to share it to others. Social sharing of information has become a part of our identities. We aim to help our users identify with another way of sharing information — that of the sceptical reader — the news fact-checker.
I’m a professional fact-checker, what’s in uCheck for me?
What uCheck offers to fact-checkers is a social platform designed to interact with readers, crowd-source available information, and a connection with informed contributors.
But more than anything, fact-checkers should use uCheck to share their own published work.
By connecting their fact-checking articles with the original contents they have checked (provided these have been published online), they can reach a larger public audience and get feedback on their work. To do that, they need only to find the original contents, open a verification, and add their work with their vote. That will be visible and voteable by anyone looking for those contents on uCheck, or by anyone using the extension.
In addition, uCheck has a ‘Top Fact-Checker’ plan. Every user who has been recognized as working in the field of news fact-checking will receive a special account with extended functionalities and reputation score.
YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL FACT-CHECKER? GET IN TOUCH TO GET YOUR TOP FACT-CHECKER ACCOUNT.
The uCheck adventure has just started, but we have our eyes set on how to make it a great social platform for everyone. We are already planning on how to expand it to social media contents, images and videos. We plan to create themed verifications to group different articles, in addition to a service to media section to work as a quality control tool. We have a lot of great ideas, but more than anything we will need your feedback and suggestions.
We hope you will join us in our quest to learn how to better survive information disorder together.
Sincerely, the uCheck Team at Precept