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Sift truth from social media

Sift truth from social media
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While social media helps to get closer to information quickly, there is a lot of distortion of facts, too. There are organisations that work on...

While social media helps to get closer to information quickly, there is a lot of distortion of facts, too. There are organisations that work on verification of information in social networks. They will offer plenty of jobs in future

dr shanthi swaroopMost of us are quite active on a variety of social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc, adding status updates and contributing to the deluge of information. The collaborative spirit of social networks is allowing us to get closer to a story, or information, faster. Information is perishable and people are willing to stay tuned to the leading edge of the news wave.

Consumers are consuming the information with a cursory glance and taking the veracity of the information for granted. Rumors, hoaxes and wrong information have been everyday phenomena in the online news business causing stock market crashes, pillorying of innocent victims, and loss of unintended lives. The need for verification and separating fact from falsehood is critical since the plethora of information sources are anonymous and cannot be trusted.

People in the social media want to instantaneously share and spread information. Ordinary citizens with access to smart phones and the Internet are being put in a prime position to document the information unfolding around them. They have the ability to provide updates and can share timely details. Their second and third hand experience passes through online as fast as they can publish.

This tsunami of user-generated content hops faster than ever, is not curated, and is often not verified or trustworthy. In the personal information domain, people's digital identities are inaccurate to a degree making their virtual avatars more likable than their true personas. People aim to be associated with their intended better selves by posing information that embellishes their avatars. In the online news domain, citizen journalists are replacing professional journalists who have long been guardians of scarce information.

These citizen journalists, armed with just a smart phone and the internet, are actively building their own newsroom and are producing and collaboratively managing this abundance of information. Most people are focused on being the first to start an information or news thread, post the latest information, or to sensationalise an information snippet. Sorting through fact, fiction, and propaganda is non-trivial but left to the end consumer. Consumers are also abetting this situation since they are eager to consume information as it happens from a variety of sources without stressing on its veracity.

Mark Twain once quipped, a lie can be half way around the world before the truth has got its boots on. In the ideal world, as information is unfolding, the first reactions from multiple sources coalesce into an information nugget, news or otherwise. The initial seed of information must then be vetted against all possible sources of related information before the seed is converted into an information fact and dispersed for consumption.

There is an acute need for technology that can corroborate the content and help consumers sift the truth from the social media rumor mills. Some steps consumers can take include checking if the information is trending by gaining votes from complementary sources, verifying the authenticity of the information source as well the veracity of the information by looking for collateral evidence.

Following old school modes of verifying information such as being skeptical, asking questions, tracking down high quality sources, and exercising restraint can prevent the consumer from being duped. Several organisations like Storyful, Verily, and Swift River are emerging to cater to the verification of information in social networks.

These organisations cater to real-time information, check and verify facts, and prevent misinformation from spreading through the social media pipes. These organisations plan to use a lot of manual help to check for veracity of the viral information.

The goal of these organisations is also to use reputation scoring, which has worked well for e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon, to clean up social media. Jobs in this domain will be a plenty in the future and needs skills in information processing, networking, mathematical models to collate evidence from disparate sources, and information fusion.

The deluge of information is making us drown in data and despair for the truth. Amidst the din and noise from the plurality of social media voices, truth is taking on a different context allowing multiple manifestations to co-exist making truth plural, subjective and ambiguous.

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