What can be done about the growing problem of false online information?

In a recent article, I discussed how sharing false and distorted information online contributes to divisions in society. The rapid spread of misinformation online is now seen as a significant global problem, and reached fever pitch in the US election. What can be done about this growing plague of false online information?

Writing in The Conversation, David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice a the University of Western Australia, argues that very little can be done because fake news is being driven by advertising. News drives website traffic and so advertising revenue, and false news attracts attentions. So web and social media platforms have no motivation to do anything about the problem.

Glance advises that “Ultimately, there is no protection from fake news other than to adopt a skeptical view of all news and take the truth of it on balance of likelihood and confirmation from multiple reputable sources.”

However, a new initiative is showing promise. A group of researchers is developing Hoaxy[1], a platform for the collection, detection, and analysis of online misinformation and the fact-checking efforts related to this:

The system collects data from two main sources: news websites and social media. From the first group we can obtain data about the origin and evolution of both fake news stories and their fact checking. From the second group we collect instances of these news stories (i.e., URLs) that are being shared online.

The Hoaxy system architecture is shown in Figure 1 below.

Hoaxy system architecture
Figure 1. Hoaxy system architecture (source: Shao et al. 2016).

A preliminary analysis of the Hoaxy platform was conducted over a period of several months using a large set of public tweets. The results suggest “an interesting interplay between fake news promoted by few very active accounts, and grass-roots responses that spread fact checking information several hours later.”

In the future, the researchers plan to investigate the extent to which social bots actively spread fake news, and to investigate the lag between misinformation and fact checks for other types of news.

Header image source: Internet! 243/365 by Dennis Skley is licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0.


  1. Shao, C., Ciampaglia, G. L., Flammini, A., & Menczer, F. (2016, April). Hoaxy: A Platform for Tracking Online Misinformation. In Proceedings of the 25th International Conference Companion on World Wide Web (pp. 745–750). International World Wide Web Conferences Steering Committee.

Originally published at RealKM.