Tag Archives: Lancaster University

Lancaster University study: April Fools hoax stories could offer clues to help identify ‘fake news’

30 Mar

The Guardian article, What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it described fake news:

Surely it’s easy to tell fake news from real news
Actually, no.
A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states on their ability to assess information sources.
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Researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles.
If you think you, an adult with an internet connection, are better placed than a middle school student to assess sources, this collection of comments on “literally unbelievable” humour stories is humbling.
It’s not that readers are stupid, or even necessarily credulous: it’s that the news format is easy to imitate and some true stories are outlandish enough to beggar belief.
Where do these stories come from?
In its purest form, fake news is completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue. Examples include: “Transgender tampon now on the market”, “Pope Francis at White House: ‘Koran and Holy Bible are the same’”, “U2’s Bono rescued during terror attack, issues sick message to victims”.
Hosted on websites that often followed design conventions of online news media, with anodyne titles such as “Civic Tribune” and “Life Event Web” to give the semblance of legitimacy, the stories are geared to travel on social media.
With clicks come profit: a man running a string of fake news sites from Los Angeles told National Public Radio that he made as much as US$30,000 a month from advertising that rewards high traffic. More than 100 pro-Trump fake news websites were being run by teenagers in one town in Macedonia…
So, how do you tell what is fake news?
Soon, Facebook will flag stories of questionable legitimacy with an alert that says “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers”. There are three Google Chrome plugins and one just released by Slate that do similar as you browse the web.
Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor of communication and media at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled this list of websites that either purposely publish false information or are otherwise entirely unreliable, broken down by category – and published a helpful list of tips for analysing news sources.
But Facebook’s approach has shortcomings and no list can ever be complete. You can’t go wrong by prioritising outlets known to be legitimate, and reading a lot of them. If it is published on the Guardian – just for example – it may well not be news, but it won’t be fake news. (Sorry, Breitbart.)
If you’re not sure if a site is legitimate, look for any red flags in its domain name, such as “.com.co”, and its About Us section. Google the sources of any quotes or figures given in the story – most fake news don’t have either, a warning sign in itself.
If the first you’ve heard of a particular event is from a website you’ve never heard of, there may be a reason. Be sceptical of stories about Trump, Clinton, the Pope, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, and particularly of stories about any of them pledging allegiance to Isis.
Rest assured, if Bieber does pledge allegiance to Isis, mainstream media will cover it…. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/18/what-is-fake-news-pizzagate

See, “Fake News,” Lies and Propaganda: How to Sort Fact from Fiction https://guides.lib.umich.edu/fakenews and What Is Fake News? https://www.prageru.com/video/what-is-fake-news/

Science Daily reported in April Fools hoax stories could offer clues to help identify ‘fake news’:

Studying April Fools hoax news stories could offer clues to spotting ‘fake news’ articles, new research reveals.
Academic experts in Natural Language Processing from Lancaster University who are interested in deception have compared the language used within written April Fools hoaxes and fake news stories.
They have discovered that there are similarities in the written structure of humorous April Fools hoaxes — the spoof articles published by media outlets every April 1st — and malicious fake news stories.
The researchers have compiled a novel dataset, or corpus, of more than 500 April Fools articles sourced from more than 370 websites and written over 14 years.
“April Fools hoaxes are very useful because they provide us with a verifiable body of deceptive texts that give us an opportunity to find out about the linguistic techniques used when an author writes something fictitious disguised as a factual account,” said Edward Dearden from Lancaster University, and lead-author of the research. “By looking at the language used in April Fools and comparing them with fake news stories we can get a better picture of the kinds of language used by authors of disinformation.”
A comparison of April Fools hoax texts against genuine news articles written in the same period — but not published on April 1st — revealed stylistic differences.
Researchers focused on specific features within the texts, such as the amount of details used, vagueness, formality of writing style and complexity of language.
They then compared the April Fools stories with a ‘fake news’ dataset, previously compiled by a different team of researchers.
Although not all of the features found in April Fools hoaxes were found to be useful for detecting fake news, there were a number of similar characteristics found across both.
They found April Fools hoaxes and fake news articles tend to contain less complex language, an easier reading difficulty, and longer sentences than genuine news.
Important details for news stories, such as names, places, dates and times, were found to be used less frequently within April Fools hoaxes and fake news. However, proper nouns, such as the names of prominent politicians ‘Trump’ or ‘Hillary’, are more abundant in fake news than in genuine news articles or April Fools, which have significantly fewer…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190329130206.htm

Citation:

April Fools hoax stories could offer clues to help identify ‘fake news’
Date: March 29, 2019
Source: Lancaster University
Summary:
Academic experts in natural language processing who are interested in deception have compared the language used within written April Fools hoaxes and fake news stories. They have discovered that there are similarities in the written structure of humorous April Fools hoaxes — the spoof articles published by media outlets every April 1 — and malicious fake news stories.

Here is the press release from Lancaster University:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 29-MAR-2019
April Fools hoax stories could offer clues to help identify ‘fake news’
LANCASTER UNIVERSITY
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Studying April Fools hoax news stories could offer clues to spotting ‘fake news’ articles, new research reveals.
Academic experts in Natural Language Processing from Lancaster University who are interested in deception have compared the language used within written April Fools hoaxes and fake news stories.
They have discovered that there are similarities in the written structure of humorous April Fools hoaxes – the spoof articles published by media outlets every April 1st – and malicious fake news stories.
The researchers have compiled a novel dataset, or corpus, of more than 500 April Fools articles sourced from more than 370 websites and written over 14 years.
“April Fools hoaxes are very useful because they provide us with a verifiable body of deceptive texts that give us an opportunity to find out about the linguistic techniques used when an author writes something fictitious disguised as a factual account,” said Edward Dearden from Lancaster University, and lead-author of the research. “By looking at the language used in April Fools and comparing them with fake news stories we can get a better picture of the kinds of language used by authors of disinformation.”
A comparison of April Fools hoax texts against genuine news articles written in the same period – but not published on April 1st – revealed stylistic differences.
Researchers focused on specific features within the texts, such as the amount of details used, vagueness, formality of writing style and complexity of language.
They then compared the April Fools stories with a ‘fake news’ dataset, previously compiled by a different team of researchers.
Although not all of the features found in April Fools hoaxes were found to be useful for detecting fake news, there were a number of similar characteristics found across both.
They found April Fools hoaxes and fake news articles tend to contain less complex language, an easier reading difficulty, and longer sentences than genuine news.
Important details for news stories, such as names, places, dates and times, were found to be used less frequently within April Fools hoaxes and fake news. However, proper nouns, such as the names of prominent politicians ‘Trump’ or ‘Hillary’, are more abundant in fake news than in genuine news articles or April Fools, which have significantly fewer.
First person pronouns, such as ‘we’, are also a prominent feature for both April Fools and fake news. This goes against traditional thinking in deception detection, which suggests liars use fewer first person pronouns.
The researchers found that April fools hoax stories, when compared to genuine news:
• Are generally shorter in length
• Use more unique words
• Use longer sentences
• Are easier to read
• Refer to vague events in the future
• Contain more references to the present
• Are less interested in past events
• Contain fewer proper nouns
• Use more first person pronouns
Fake news stories, when compared to genuine news:
• Are shorter in length
• Are easier to read
• Use simplistic language
• Contain fewer punctuation marks
• Contain more proper nouns
• Are generally less formal – use more first names such as ‘Hillary’ and contain more profanity and spelling mistakes
• Contain very few dates
• Use more first person pronouns
The researchers also created a machine learning ‘classifier’ to identify if articles are April Fools hoaxes, fake news or genuine news stories. The classifier achieved a 75 per cent accuracy at identifying April Fools articles and 72 per cent for identifying fake news stories. When the classifier was trained on April Fools hoaxes and set the task of identifying fake news it recorded an accuracy of more than 65 per cent.
Dr Alistair Baron, co-author of the paper, said: “Looking at details and complexities within a text are crucial when trying to determine if an article is a hoax. Although there are many differences, our results suggest that April Fools and fake news articles share some similar features, mostly involving structural complexity.
“Our findings suggest that there are certain features in common between different forms of disinformation and exploring these similarities may provide important insights for future research into deceptive news stories.”
The research has been outlined in the paper ‘Fool’s Errand: Looking at April Fools Hoaxes as Disinformation through the Lens of Deception and Humour’, which will be presented at the 20th International Conference on Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing, to be held in La Rochelle in April.
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The paper’s authors are Edward Dearden and Alistair Baron of Lancaster University. Edward Dearden’s PhD studies have been supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

The University of West Florida has a great guide to avoiding fake news.

In Fake News the University of West Florida discussed fake news:

Fact-Checking: The Facts
#1: Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate
• Use criteria to evaluate a source. In Libraries, we often use the CRAAP Test* to evaluate websites, and these criteria are useful for evaluating news as well. These criteria are:
o Currency: is the information current? Many times on Facebook, you will click on a story and notice that the date was from a few months or years ago, but your “friends” are acting outraged as if it is happening in the moment.
o Relevance: is the information important to your research needs? This criterion perhaps applies most if you are out seeking information, rather than just stumbling across it. Does the information relate to your question and at the appropriate-level (elementary/advanced)? Have you looked at a variety of sources before selecting this one?
o Authority: who is the author/publisher/sponsor of the news? Do they have authority on the subject? Do they have an agenda?
o Accuracy: Is the information supported by evidence? Does the author cite credible sources? Is the information verifiable in other places?
o Purpose: What is the purpose of this news? To outrage? To call to action? To inform? To sell? This can give you clues about bias.
So, finally, is your news source CRAAP? More on Fact-Checking:
#2: Google It!
If you found out something via social media, you should take 5 seconds and just Google it! More often than not, a Google search will show:
• If other reputable news sites are reporting on the same thing
• If a fact-check website has already debunked the claim
• If only biased news organizations are reporting the claim — in this case, it may require more digging.
I would say that most of the time, 5 seconds is all you need before you hit the angry, the like, the love, or – WORSE! – the share button!
#3: Get News from News Sources
One of the easiest ways to avoid the trap of fake news to begin with may seem obvious:
Go directly to credible news websites for your news.
Relying on Facebook to see what is “trending” or what is being shared across your newsfeed means you have to verify every single meme or news article you come across. Why not rely on news apps on your phone that go to news websites for that?
• Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse is an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France.
• Associated Press
An independent, non-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City.
• Reuters
The world’s largest international multimedia news agency.
**Keep in mind that even some reputable news sites have biases and may tell the facts in different ways.**
• British Broadcasting Company
• National Public Radio
• New York Times
• Wall Street Journal
• The Washington Post
• All Sides
All Sides says that its mission is to: “expose bias and provide multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant.”

All Sides displays the same news stories from multiple news outlets (along with their rating of their conservative or liberal bias). This is a great way to learn how the same story is reported differently in different outlets.
#4: Distinguish Opinion from Fact
Even news websites and programs have spaces or shows dedicated to people’s opinions of news stories. In newspapers, these sections may be called:
• Editorials
• Letters to the Editor
• Op-Eds
• Opinion
Opinion shows many times now dominate cable news sources. You may agree with the opinions presented, or they may contextualize the facts for you in a way that makes sense. However, realize they are presenting the facts in a way that meets their agenda and think for yourself: How might “the other side” present these same facts?
Examples of opinion shows on news channels are:
• The O’Reilly Factor
• Hardball with Chris Matthews
• Fox & Friends
• The Rachel Maddow Show
• Anderson Cooper 360
#5: Watch out for red flags!
• Does the link end with .co instead of .com?
• Are there small disclaimers, something that says “satire”?
• When you click on a story in social media, is it a story that is outdated? Why is it being circulated now?
• Is it posted by so-and-so? …We all have that one friend on social media. https://libguides.uwf.edu/c.php?g=609513&p=4274530

The most important tool to combating fake news is Critical Thinking.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines critical thinking:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness….
Why Critical Thinking?
The Problem
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
A Definition
Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and
imposing intellectual standards upon them.
The Result
A well cultivated critical thinker:
• raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
• gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
• thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
• communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism…. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

The mind is like a muscle, it must be exercised.

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