Laurier student helps develop fake news detecting software

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Graphic by Alan Li

A Wilfrid Laurier University student recently helped develop a fake news detecting software at the fifth annual Yale Hackathon (YHack) competition, which took place at Yale University.

“Open Mind” is a free browser plug-in that alerts internet users when they come across biased article and fake news, including unreliable publications and websites.

“It is a chrome extension that helps users have a balanced perspective when it comes to politics,” Jeff An, a computer science and business administration double degree student from Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo, said.

An developed the browser plug-in “Open Mind” with a team of three other students at YHack in early December, 2017. The team is made up of Alex Cui from the California Institute of Technology, Michael Lopez-Brau from Yale University and Stefan Uddenberg from Yale University.

“We noticed that if you only go to one website or one newspaper, the perspective you are exposed to is quite narrow and you don’t come to understand the other side,” An said.

The browser plug-in, which will be free to users and available for download on Google Chrome, is scheduled to launch in early 2018.

“It will be free, as we are very against the idea of having cost on it. We think this is something that everyone should have access to,” An said.

The plug-in was originally developed for the Fake News challenge at Yale University. YHack was held over a three-day period and invited competitors to present what they developed at the competition.

“Fake news was one of the main challenges of the event and we were quite drawn to it because it was one of the bigger challenges,” An said.

Together, the team developed “Open Mind” after identifying a need to combat the bias and fake news that exists in publications today.

The plug-in works by sending alerts to the internet user when they reach a website that consistently publishes bias towards certain topics. Alerts also warn the reader when they come across publications with fake news.

To do this, “Open Mind” created a large database of known websites that are constantly publishing inaccurate and biased information.

The plug-in goes even further to suggest alternative articles for the reader on the same topic, although from a different viewpoint. “Open Mind” suggests articles based off of previous articles read to promote a diversity of perspective in readers.

“We noticed that if you only go to one website or one newspaper, the perspective you are exposed to is quite narrow and you don’t come to understand the other side,” An said.

“We thought that was a huge problem when you apply that to a very large population.”

“Open Mind” was developed to assist readers with recognizing bias and encouraging a diverse  perspective in the public.

“We wanted to help people get out of that bubble and create a diversity of perspective and we do that by suggesting articles based on the articles already read,” An said.

“Open Mind” hopes to encourage the public to read articles that have different political perspectives and to move away from articles biased towards personal beliefs.

“As users browse the web it takes a look at the types of articles they are browsing and will alert them when one of those articles has a consistent bias.”

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