Four college students may have just solved the fake news problem

A team of college students has attracted attention from Congress and Facebook for developing a browser extension that helps combat fake news, Pat Eaton-Robb reports for the Associated Press.

The extension, called Open Mind, alerts users when they view an article that might be misleading or biased. The extension analyzes the text of the article and displays a warning screen if it detects a political slant or if the article appears on a site known to distribute false information. Then, it recommends other articles that cover the same topic from a different perspective.

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The team includes Michael Lopez-Brau and Stefan Uddenberg, both doctoral students at Yale University; Alex Cui, an undergraduate at the California Institute of Technology; and Jeff An, who studies at both the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. The students developed Open Mind as part of a hackathon hosted by Yale's Poynter Fellowship in Journalism. 

The team won the challenge. As part of the prize, they'll meet with members of Congress this spring. Facebook, one of the hackathon sponsors, has also expressed interest in meeting with the students to support its own work on fake news.

Digital literacy has become a hot topic in recent months in the wake of public scrutiny of fake news. A 2017 survey found that only 24% of college students and recent graduates could accurately identify fake news. A similar 2016 study found that less than half of students surveyed could recognize bias in a post written by a bank executive that claimed young adults need more help with financial planning (Pat Eaton-Robb, Houston Chronicle, 12/25).

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