Pheme: Twitter’s lie detector

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  • 8 years ago
  • Posted: February 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Social media is popular, not just because it connects us from wherever and whenever but  also the ease with which we can lie and get away with it makes it appealing. And the lies are several. We lie about relationships; about flying, driving, and we also lie about our earnings. It has been called “fake it until you make it”.

But a collaboration between four companies namely iHub in Kenya, ATOS in Spain, Ontotext in Bulgaria and together with five universities namely Sheffield, Warwick, King’s College London, Saarland in Germany and MODUL University Vienna are developing a technology they have called Pheme meant to detect social media lies in 140 characters or less.

Are Twitter lies important?

People lie on social media everyday. Some of the lies are inconsequential but others lead to public panic, death, or even loss of finances. In 2011, when guys were rioting in London, tweeps lied that animals had been released from zoos and that some landmarks had been set on fire. Business Insider adds, “Sally Bercow, the wife of the Commons Speaker, and the comedian Alan Davies,…were among those who spread untrue rumours that linked Lord McAlpine to child sex abuse. Both were among a number of prominent people who agreed [to] financial settlements with the late peer as a result of the incorrect claims.”

So yes, it is important to be ware of Twitter lies as you can either panic for no reason, cause harm by spreading untrue stories, or even be fined huge sums of money by peddling stories you know not their sources. But how can you know that a story on Twitter is true or not?

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To help detect lies peddled on Twitter, the researcher are developing Pheme which will come in handy in verifying whether a given tweet contains true information. Pheme is being developed to group information on Twitter into four main categories: 1. Speculation e.g. attempts to predict the future of an economy with incomplete data 2. Controversy e.g. discussions on the development of a new but deadly virus that is said to be worse that HIV 3. Misinformation e.g. spreading false statements without knowing that’s it’s false 4. Disinformation e.g. publishing false statements with sinister motives.

For every information posted on Twitter, Pheme will work in the background to establish the sources of such information. Credibility of information will depend on the credibility of original author. Information stemming from known personalities or media outlets will be treated as credible whereas information coming from sources such as bots, personalities with questionable credentials or those known to spread rumors will be treated as lies unless the said information can be validated by credible sources.

Business Insider explains, “Pheme will then search for sources that can back up or dismiss the information, as well plot how the conversations on social networks evolve, using all of this information to assess whether it is true or false. The results will be displayed to the user on screen, telling people if an untruth is taking hold among the public.”

The development of Pheme is estimated to cost roughly 3.5 million pounds and will be funded by a grant from European Union. In about one year six months from now, Pheme will likely be available to the public but working prototype might be available real soon.

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How accurate will Pheme be?

The guys who seem to be targeted for Pheme are the government authorities.Given history of governments in relation to their need to control the Internet, there exists a possibility of people being prosecuted for “peddling” false information because Pheme said so.

In Kenya we have seen cases where some bloggers are dragged to the courts to answer to charges of peddling rumors and posting false statements on VIPs. I am afraid that Pheme will be readily available to the authorities to lock out such bloggers – forever. Since a Kenyan company is part of the project, be sure that the Kenyan government will be more than willing to embrace Pheme in order to monitor tweets.

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