Lead Data Scientist and co-creator of Geppetto, Farshad Kheiri, discusses why technology like Geppetto is more critical than ever in today’s news climate.

Social media has made it easier than ever before to disseminate information, whether it’s true or not, and often without meaningful supervision or filtering. The result: an overwhelming onslaught of data and information which may or may not be valid, and an increasingly obfuscated line between fact, opinion and deliberate misinformation.

In other words, anyone with an internet connection and a social media account now has the ability to create ‘news,’ perpetually muddying the waters on some of the most important pillars of democracy. This is fast becoming one of the most critical issues we face today.

Many topics have surfaced on the internet with polarizing arguments (and potentially dangerous side effects), such as:

Should I vaccinate my child?

Should I use toothpaste with Fluoride?

Should I vote for this candidate?

A cursory internet search will yield factual, research-based articles that reveal quite the opposite to the type of popular, opinion-based information you might find scrolling through your Facebook feed. This begs the question: How can we avoid falling for popular opinions that drown out (and undermine) factual, research-based information?

While there are many views on the topic of fake news, we believe that there is a dire need for an alternative way to deliver news, where the journalist can be held accountable for situational accuracy and their news reports and stories will be continuously fact-checked in a democratized and decentralized system.

Earlier this summer, we wrote about how DV is using blockchain and machine learning to fight fake news via, Geppetto, a first-of-its-kind, tamper-proof platform that can accurately winnow out those articles which are fake from those which are valid. But detecting fake news is only one small part of Geppetto’s powerful capabilities.

One of the main functions of Geppetto is a platform with the ability to publish news which guarantees its readers a numerical ‘truth’ score. When a user publishes a story, Geppetto will hold him or her responsible for the veracity of its contents, verified via blockchain technology and enforced via an impartial reputation system.

At the outset, we did not expect for this functionality to become Geppetto’s most compelling use-case, but over time, we began to understand that such a platform had the ability to disrupt journalism.

Media B.I. (Before the Internet)

Before the era of the internet, public and private media shared in the responsibility of delivering information. They put forward narratives and interpretations of what was happening in the world and people chose what to believe. Media sources which could attract and maintain audience trust were able to hold stronger reputations as valid sources. People trusted journalists to distill and report on events and facts.

This system was not without flaws. Media companies that attracted larger audiences made more money, which led to news reporting that favored shocking stories over facts. Over time, this notion lowered the level of trust in the mainstream media and people started to seek their news from unconventional sources.

Perhaps this explains why many of the most viral news articles covering the election turned out to be fake stories of obviously dubious origins. As a consequence, candidates began questioning facts, based on the source of the news and the unreliability and bias those sources could have—and interestingly enough, people agreed.

But the U.S. Presidential election was the loose thread at the end of a much bigger sweater. If we pull that thread until it unravels, we begin to see that the now entirely commercialized traditional, mainstream media as we have come to know it, is on the verge of failure.

Why Geppetto?

Many people have asked me: Why Geppetto? What does BCG Digital Ventures have to gain from creating such a platform? DV is not in the ‘media’ industry, nor are we journalists. However, we are in the business of technology, and do not consider the ethics of it to be an afterthought, but central to its future evolution.

As entrepreneurs and engineers who trust in the scientific method the problem of media and information validation fundamentally appealed to us as a great challenge to solve with modern technologies.

To begin the process of creating Geppetto, we knew we needed to create a platform to check the veracity of news. Artificial intelligence came as the initial solution. And studying fake news, we found three surprisingly simple but useful categories:

  1. Fake title with valid content
  2. Valid title with fake content
  3. Totally fabricated news.

The first two can be captured through natural language processing-based modeling by finding the coherence between the title and the content. The third kind is trickier to solve for, but through careful study, we observed that most fabricated news stories peddle feelings and opinions about an entity rather than facts.

To tackle this, we created AI models to capture language-detected opinions and used them to score articles on a probabilistic validity scale. For those that are ranked high as fact-based articles, we use data science methodologies to check the underlying facts for patterns that reveal truthful or fake attributes. The result is an overall score determined through an ensemble of heuristic, continuous, and deep-learning models.

The ultimate judge would be the wisely selected voters (human intelligence) to validate the model. However, because we want the system to be autonomous and incentive driven, we decided to use blockchain to keep a ledger of the platform’s performance and active democratic contribution.

The economy of the platform will be handled by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) running on a blockchain in which users, publishers and voters are being incentivized by tokens to collaborate towards a more truthful news platform.

Fake news anatomy changes very rapidly and makes updating AI models frequently an eventual necessity. With Geppetto, AI models will be continuously updated using data hashed and referenced on the blockchain.

Some people ask: Doesn’t Geppetto limit freedom of speech? The answer is: quite the contrary. Geppetto seeks to promote responsible freedom of speech and accountability within journalism. Opinions left un-validated can lead to otherwise avoidable physical, mental, political, or social harm.

In a world where anyone can claim anything with click of a button, we would like to be able to create a safety net to help people process the validity of information before assuming truthfulness.

Our platform, Geppetto, will enable anyone to publish news and be held accountable for the content. The final decision will be made by the public, the platform is opt-in and no one controls the system. This will essentially disrupt the journalism sector as we strive to keep readers more factually informed.

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