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Fake News and the Quest for Absolute Truth

July 31, 2017

Now perhaps more than ever, the fake news epidemic is on everyone's minds. With an all-out war between the mainstream media and largely-online, less traditional news outlets, the fight has escalated into the national political arena. Millions of news consumers who had once taken the accuracy of published stories for granted must now read with skepticism and decide for themselves what constitutes fake news.

Fake news, of course, takes many forms. Sure, there are the blatant lies and the obviously biased articles. But in the middle lies something potentially far more dangerous: seemingly-objective but selective reporting that gradually molds our minds to turn against a particular group or political party. Does that count as fake news? Most would say no. But stories written with a partisan agenda are a problem nevertheless - one that pervades both the mainstream media and many online news sources.

When confronted by this mess of possibilities, what do we do? Most of us go with our gut, isolating ourselves in a bubble. We continue to trust the news sources we have always trusted. We disregard anything contradictory to our opinions or partisan leanings. Our political opponents are malicious, insincere.

We at NewsCracker hope that automated fact-checking will help to curb this dangerous trend, along with its cause: the fake news epidemic. But how, amid a web of contradictions, does someone, a computer no less, find the absolute truth? The frustrating answer is that at the end of the day, it all comes down to a judgment call. Is the website generally trustworthy? Do I trust these quotes or references? Does the article seem unbiased?

Fortunately for us, a computer is much better equipped to make these decisions than we are. In seconds, an algorithm can quantitatively analyze an article's overall tone, pour through dozens of Google search results to cross-reference individual facts, and check the credibility of each included quote. And best of all, a computer program can do all this without opinions clouding its judgment. Can we unambiguously determine the absolute truth? No. But we can come pretty close.

 

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