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Jan. 31, 2018, 11:29 a.m.
Mobile & Apps
LINK: itunes.apple.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   January 31, 2018

Tuesday night marked the debut of FactStream, the real-time fact-checking app from Duke University Reporters’ Lab. Duke partnered with PolitiFact, The Washington Post, and FactCheck.org to provide users who downloaded the app with live fact-checks of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

FactStream is part of Duke’s Tech & Check Cooperative, an initiative that received $1.2 million last fall to work on automating fact-checking. “If you had asked me three or four years ago how soon will you be able to do live pop-up fact checking, I would have said maybe a decade…but artificial intelligence has come a long way in a short period of time,” Adair recently told my colleague Christine Schmidt. “We’ve created the secret sauce with our database…We see this very much as a way to bring together computer scientists and fact checkers to do this work.”

FactStream as we saw it last night wasn’t fully automated. It’s “a manual app that requires the work of human fact-checkers behind the scenes,” Rebecca Iannucci wrote in a post for Duke Reporters’ Lab. “It is an important first step toward the ‘holy grail’ of fact-checking — automated detection of a claim that is instantly matched to a published fact-check.”

Here are a couple examples of what the fact-checks looked like. With different teams participating, they ranged from standard fact-checks to paragraphs of additional context.

My colleague Christine used FactStream during the address. Among her notes:

— No actual notifications (though I checked and it was set as so on my phone!). I had to have the app and the stream open to see the checks pop in.
— Some checks came in simultaneously as the words were spoken — assuming that’s from the pre-event transcript
— Some checks came in twice, like the Empire State Building built in just 1 year — from PolitiFact first and then the Washington Post.
— It would have been helpful to have the checks presented in a consistent way. The PolitiFact checks showed the Truth-o-Meter in the stream without having to click on the check for instant information, but the checks by other organizations required a few more maneuvers.
— It’s hard to read up on a fact check (e.g. actually hit the read button, beyond the quick take) with the pace of the live claims in the event/corresponding checks coming through.
— No checks on the anecdotes Trump presented (the police officer adopting a baby from an opioid addict, a family torn apart by the MS-13 gang), but it would be helpful to see if these stories were presented authentically and to get more context about the issues they raised (like the MS-13 gang).

If you used the app last night, you can review it here; as of Wednesday morning, it was No. 29 in Apple’s news app category, actually ahead of Bloomberg (30) and NBC News (31).

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