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Hoaxy visualizes how fake news spreads across social media

Indiana University has developed a tool for the battle against misinformation.
Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
December 21, 2016
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Nicholas Kamm via Getty Images

We're at the point where the proliferation of fake news online has had extreme offline consequences. While Google has poured funds into battling misinformation and Facebook has asked its users to rate headlines for truthfulness, Indiana University is going about things a different way. Hoaxy, a project from IU's Center for Complex Networks and System Research, is a search engine that tracks the spread of fake news stories, visually.

As CNET explains, the tool, currently in beta, indexes 132 sites responsible for writing fake news stories and illustrates how the links travel across social media. Beyond that, it will also keep an eye on sites that serve to further conspiracy theories, like Info Wars does, or those that twist real news stories into wholesale falsehoods.

The "Picklegate" clips start around 70 seconds in.
For example, searching for "pickle jar" brings back 20 results claiming that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton opened a pre-opened jar of pickles to prove how healthy she was on late-night TV. Many come from Alex Jones (above) of Info Wars.

Selecting one, and then hitting "visualize" brings back a graph showing tweets and a timeline of when the story was most active. On the right side of the page is a network map illustrating the source of the link, who's retweeted it and where it's picked up the most traction.

The web app can be a bit kludgy at times (it's a beta after all) but it offers a unique way to look at how propaganda can take over the internet and where it originates from.
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