Lies, damned lies and tweets: How to spot those urban myths

Twitter urban myths
Twitter urban myths
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RESEARCHERS in Sheffield are building a Twitter “lie detector” to analyse online rumours before they gain traction.

The EU-funded system, under construction at Sheffield University, will weed out “urban myths” in real time before they spread across the internet.

False rumours have become a feature of online life in recent years, with notorious examples including:

• Accusations of vote-rigging in Kenyan elections;

• Allegations that President Obama was Muslim;

• Claims that the animals were set free from London Zoo during the 2011 riots.

Researcher Dr Kalina Bontcheva from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering said: “There was a suggestion after the 2011 riots that social networks should have been shut down, to prevent the rioters using them to organise. But social networks also provide useful information – the problem is that it all happens so fast and we can’t quickly sort truth from lies.

“This makes it difficult to respond to rumours, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm. Our system aims to help with that, by tracking and verifying information in real time.”

The new system will automatically categorise sources to assess their authority, and help spot where Twitter accounts have been created purely to spread false information.

The three-year project, nicknamed Pheme, also involves universities and commercial firms in London, Germany, Vienna, Spain, Kenya and Bulgaria.