How to empower citizens to fight fake news during Covid-19

Posted on: 22 February 2021 by Dr Elinor Carmi and Dr Elena Musi in February posts

Fake news excerpt
Fake News Immunity Chatbot

Misinformation, or semi-fake news, has been seen in abundance during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Elinor Cami and Dr Elena Musi and their project team worked with colleagues from the University of Dundee to launch a chatbot enabled website to help improve people’s ability to spot semi-fake news. Here they tell us how the project is going and how it will continue to help people post Covid-19.

'In the past decade different aspects of our lives have become more digital - from shopping, to watching news or television and onto dating, playing games and even paying the bills. But since the Covid-19 pandemic took over the world, getting accurate information, news and facts about what is happening is paramount. One of the main problems for us is to fight the waves of mis- and dis-information, conspiracy theories and propaganda flooding media and especially social media. Such online manipulations cause real life harms from assaults, arsons and deaths and onto refusing to get vaccinated. We must get reliable and truthful information that can help us navigate this uncertain situation in the best way. This is where our project comes into the picture and help citizens become their own fact-checkers.

Our team from the University of Liverpool - led by Dr Elena Musi, along with Dr Elinor Carmi, Dr Myrto Aloumpi, Professor Kay O’Halloran, Professor Simeon Yates together with Professor Chriss Reed and Matt Fouli from Dundee University - has been working on a chatbot that will help people identify what is false within different arguments. As part of our UKRI funded project Being Alone Together: Developing Fake News Immunity we developed a multi-player chatbot that teaches people how to act as fact checkers identifying misinformation content in a gamification environment.

During the first step of our project we conducted a multilevel data analysis of 1135 news collected from 5 fact checkers in English from the beginning of the pandemic till the end of June 2020. One of the main things that stood up for us was that while these fact-checking websites provide an important and necessary service to society, the way they categorise each news is not consistent. For example, different pieces of news were categorised with half true half false, whilst in other fact-checking sites they used a different category. But more importantly, providing these categories didn’t really help people identify and understand what exactly is false within the news they were reading. Considering most (59%) news are a reconfiguration of misinformation, whereby true information is twisted in various ways, that leaves people quite confused.

Chatbot example

To assist people to identify how misinformation gets reconfigured, we have identified ten recurrent rhetorical strategies (see image below) which commonly happen in the grey area of online manipulations. We have designed our chatbot to interactively teach how to identify these fallacies across news. By empowering citizens to identify what elements make a news fallacious, the chatbot provides people with new critical tools to navigate online manipulations within and beyond the pandemic context.

Fallacious news examples

 10 recurrent rhetorical strategies

The chatbot functions as an educational tool to help teachers prompt discussions which develop critical thinking in a supportive and safe environment. So far we rolled out our first chatbot for citizens, but we will soon upgrade it with content around the vaccination and even prepare a chatbot to help newsrooms in their reporting. With the chatbot for reporters we hope to emphasise rhetorical strategies that can assist journalist communicate their articles in a way better and precise way so that accurate information will reach people in this critical time. While we think our chatbots are important during the pandemic we believe the critical tools we provide people and journalists will assist them in the days after - developing their ability to know truth from false will strengthen our societies to be more resilient and healthy.'

Discover more

Try the Fake News Immunity Chatbot for yourself!

Find out more about the Being Alone Together: Building Fake News Immunity project.


Blog post by Dr Elinor Carmi and Dr Elena Musi