The year of the fact-checking bot

“The falsehoods will continue, but the bots will be a force multiplier to provide people with the truth.”

A year ago, I predicted that 2016 would be the year of Pinocchios and Pants on Fire. I said fact-checking would flourish, that seasonal players such as The New York Times would ramp up for the election and that candidates would often cite fact-checks to attack their opponents.

bill-adairI rate my predictions Mostly True.

Sites such as PolitiFact, The Washington Post, and FactCheck.org continued to have record traffic and achieved a new level of prominence. Even Donald Trump, who broke records for falsehoods, favorably cited the fact-checkers when they called out Hillary Clinton.

But I didn’t foresee the onslaught of fake news, which fact-checkers were slow to recognize. I also fell a little short with my hope that on election night, the winning candidate would proclaim “how the American people recognized that truth matters.”

Um, that didn’t quite happen.

But that won’t deter the fact-checkers and the growing army of researchers and computer scientists who are exploring how to automate this important journalism.

In the past few years, there’s been quiet progress. A team at the University of Texas-Arlington has been refining ClaimBuster, a tool that does the work of dozens of college interns, finding factual claims from TV shows and legislative floor debates. In Britain, the fact-checker Full Fact is developing tools that track political claims. At Duke University, we developed Share the Facts, a widget that helps search engines find fact-checking articles, and we built a Chrome browser extension that provides pop-up fact-checking during live events such as presidential debates.

I predict that 2017 will be the year of the fact-checking bot. Watch for these organizations and others to find new ways to automate. At Duke, we will be launching a major project to better coordinate the projects around the world and provide seamless automated fact-checking on many platforms.

The falsehoods will continue, but the bots will be a force multiplier to provide people with the truth.

Bill Adair is the creator of PolitiFact and a professor at the Sanford School for Public Policy at Duke University.

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