Team Promotes Democracy through Fact-checking

September 17, 2020

Fact-checking furnishes a vital defense against the onslaught of falsehoods, hyperboles and half-truths that harm our democracy, health, economy and national security.

Building on previous Data+, CS+ and Bass Connections projects,  the Data and Technology for Fact-checking team furthered the development of an automated fact-checking system for public use. A pop-up fact-checking service allows users to verify statements they hear in real time without having to initiate the research themselves.

Team leaders were Pankaj Agarwal and Jun Yang (Computer Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences) and Bill Adair (Sanford School of Public Policy).


Team member Andres Montoya-Aristizabal ’22 explained how this system helps combat the overwhelming number of false claims made in the news each day: “In order to ensure that a claim is correctly identified as true or false, it needs to be reviewed by a fact-checker. Their work generates fact-checks that we then store in a database, and the automation comes in when these claims are repeated. Repeated claims can be compared with the database to determine whether they are true or false.”

Part of the project focused on vaccine misinformation. Team members built a taxonomy for common anti-vaccination tropes, developed methods to identify appropriate intervention information, and designed a survey to create a large dataset for training automation algorithms.

Students present their CS+ project in August 2019.
Students present their CS+ project in August 2019. (Photo: Sarah Dwyer)

Research Continues through External Grant

In 2019, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant of $999,870 to team leader Jun Yang and colleagues for the development of an open-access resource for debunking misinformation, beginning with use cases on healthcare.

“The success of this proposal owes big thanks to the Data+ project, the Bass Connections projects on fact-checking and vaccine misinformation and the CS+ project,” Yang said. “These projects helped lay some of the foundations and preliminary results for the successfully funded proposal.”

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