Machine learning algorithms provide a way to detect misinformation based on writing style and how articles are shared.
On topics as varied as climate change and the safety of vaccines, you will find a wave of misinformation all over social media. Trust in conventional news sources may seem lower than ever, but researchers are working on ways to give people more insight on whether they can believe what they read. Researchers have been testing artificial intelligence (AI) tools that could help filter legitimate news. But how trustworthy is AI when it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation?
Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the University of Tennessee collaborated to study the role of AI in helping people identify whether the news they’re reading is legitimate or not.
The research paper, “Tailoring Heuristics and Timing AI Interventions for Supporting News Veracity Assessments,” was published in Computers in Human Behavior Reports. It discussed how crowdsourcing marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) can be used to identify misinformation for fresh news and specific heuristics, which are rules of thumb used to process information and consider its veracity. In other words, heuristics are essentially “shortcuts for decisions,” explained Dorit Nevo, an associate professor at RPI’s Lally School of Management and a lead author for the paper.
The study found that AI would be successful in flagging false stories only if the reader did not already have an opinion on the topic, Nevo said. When study subjects were set in their beliefs, confirmation bias kept them from reassessing their views.
Nevo said the first part of the project focused on whether subjects could detect misinformation around climate change and vaccines like the one designed to prevent chicken pox. Then, beginning in April 2020, her team studied how people responded to news related to COVID-19.
“With COVID-19, there was a significant difference,” Nevo said. They found that about 72 percent of respondents could identify misinformation about the coronavirus without heuristic clues, and roughly 93 percent were able to be convinced by the researcher’s heuristics that the content was fake.
Examples of heuristic clues include text with too many capital letters or the use of strong language, Nevo said.
There were two types of heuristics mentioned in the team’s paper: objective heuristics and source heuristics. They put a statement at the top of each article the subjects read; it instructed them to read the article and indicate whether they believed its central thesis.
“We either put a statement that says the AI finds this article reliable and accurate based on the objective heuristics, or we said the AI finds the source reliable,” Nevo said. “So that’s the source heuristic.”
In her research on heuristics, Nevo found that people’s thinking takes one of two paths: The first path is to read the article, think about it and decide if they believe it; the second is to consider the source and what others think about the news, and decide whether to believe it before reading it. [READ MORE]