Using Computers to Spot Fake News
Ukrainian journalists are developing an algorithm that would allow the detection of Russian propaganda and fake news. Each week it parses through thousands of news sources to find a minimum of 3-to-4,000 fakes
“These are two neural networks. The first one separates news about Ukraine. There is a separate category of news about the war. Most of it is combat information,” Nadiya Romanenko, a data journalist at text.org.ua said, showing off the computer program.
Each week the AI weeds out at least 20 percent of news as fake news by parsing through 80 websites. Most of the time those articles are written in the Russian language, although they are published not only by Russian media, but also by the Ukrainian press that shows a strong pro-Russian bias.
“Every week we find 3-to-4,000 news pieces that are manipulative or that have traces of Russian propaganda. Yet we do not see 40 percent of manipulative news and around 6 percent are false positives,” Romanenko said.
Journalist and editor at Bezbrekhni, Oleksandr Gorokhovskyi, has been doing fact-checking since 2016. The journalist began noticing that Russia has been using very subtle maneuvers to inject their messages into the news. Something that could be called “creeping propaganda.”
“Generally it is subtle things, like playing with words. It is hard to just throw in really crudely made fake news. Although it still happens it does not work like that. But in a battle of words, outplaying your opponent by the use of words. These subtle maneuvers are often used now,” Gorokhovskyi said.
Late in September this year, the media spread information that a Polish soldier killed a Ukrainian soldier at the Yavorivsky Training Facility in the Lviv region. The original piece was reported by the Lviv-based newspaper “Ratusha,” that referred to national police information. Yet later it became known that the website of the newspaper was hacked.
“Our website was accessed from a Panama IP address. The company was created in 2016 in India. As you can understand, this was not some boy from a village that sat down and typed some info. And according to the information I have, several other websites were also attacked,” Ratusha Editor-in-Chief Mykola Saveliev said.
Russian media used this fake about alleged murder at the training facility to in an attempt to sour relations between Ukraine and Poland.
“The most dangerous part is that they are working with Western audiences through Russia Today or through cooperation with pro-Russian media abroad. Or they just spread some breaking news that will be further spread by any other media. Some real scoops. They work the same way in Ukraine. On one hand, they work with Ukrainian and pro-Russian media, on the other hand, they throw in information that is not recognized as fake even by media with high standards,” Journalist and Editor-in-Chief at Detector Media Natalia Ligacheva said.
And while the editors of the Lviv newspaper that was hacked are working on better protecting their websites, fact-checkers are reminding Ukrainians that improving your media literacy and critical thinking is crucial in the age of fake news.