24 September 2006

A Journalist's Worst Nightmare: Robot Fact Checkers

Recent cases of journalists caught red-handed fabricating and obscuring the news includes the memogate scandal by CBS News, the Eason Jordan coverups by CNN, the New York Times fabrications of Jayson Blair, CNN's fabrication of war crimes in the Tailwind report, and many other examples of the mainstream media attempting to influence public opinion through false reporting.

Now journalists will have even more reason to be looking over their shoulders. Advanced computer programs will be constantly scanning news reports, and scrupulously evaluating journalistic sources for evidence of fabrication and misrepresentation.

The new research will use machine-learning algorithms to give computers examples of text expressing both fact and opinion and teach them to tell the difference. A simplified example might be to look for phrases like "according to" or "it is believed." Ironically, Cardie said, one of the phrases most likely to indicate opinion is "It is a fact that ..."

The work also will seek to determine the sources of information cited by a writer. "We're making sure that any information is tagged with a confidence. If it's low confidence, it's not useful information," Cardie added.

....The results, she added, will always include pointers to the original sources, so that when a computer draws some conclusion, human beings will be able to look at the original material and determine whether or not the conclusion was correct.

The blogosphere has been successful in exposing a great deal of journalistic misconduct, which has become endemic in the news media. Now the big money is being put behind the effort to hold frequently dishonest and capricious journalists to account for their well-paid manipulations.

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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