Fake News (the new-news buzzword) is on a tremendous rise since the past few years. With the increase in digital penetration (read social media penetration), pieces of fake news are going viral like wildfire. The political environment has changed and content creation is at its peak. People are consuming news in a hundred different formats from a hundred different platforms; a large part of which is untrue and unverified. And undoubtedly, the biggest platform of propagation of fake news has been WhatsApp. It is amusing to see the impact those forwarded messages have on people. Nobody knows their source but yet people tend to believe in it.
To study the colossal damage caused by unverified fake news and to find out if people can verify the news that they are consuming, Ankita Garg, and her co-founder Amitabh Mehta, both alumni of IIM Bangalore, started researching around how they can contribute to the cause of Fake News using gamification. Their startup, Enthrall Labs builds games and mobile apps around novels and education felt that this issue is worth fighting for. “It is our way to contribute to the society as techies”, adds Ankita. They wanted to test the following hypothesis – “Can people recognize fake news? Do people agree that they can’t recognize fake news? Will they enjoy it if the news verification process is presented as a challenge?”
They quickly designed an experiment, collecting a set of messages, and sharing it with a sample audience. The sample had mixed demography – educated, uneducated, metropolitan, tier-two cities, etc. The results were startling. The results revealed that a large chunk of people could not identify fake news and believed in it instantly. A lot of people in this chunk were surprisingly those assumed to be fairly aware. They were people who were educated and were always online.
“People believed they are good at recognizing fake news and it was a shocker for them that they could not” quips Ankita Garg. She very well perceived the need for an “an eye-opener app” for people which helps the identify fake news. “The results made us very clear in our heads about who we are and what we don’t want to be. We didn’t want to build another news aggregator nor did we want to create any fact-checking mechanism. The foremost need was to raise awareness about fake news. People needed a helping hand to bring them closer to reality. Everyone needs to pause and verify the source of the information before forming an opinion. We quickly started building around these ideas.” recalls Ankita. Eventually, these thoughts gave birth to the idea of the Litmus App.
The game is simple. It presents every news as a card. You swipe it to the left if you think the news is fake and you swipe the card right if you think it is the correct news. Post swipe, the app tells you the result. If you are interested to read more about it, the game also provides you with a link to the source. As a result- kids, women, old age people could instantly start playing this game. “We want users to play and be amazed to find out how easily they can be fooled with Fake News, instead of telling what is fake, or what is real. We want people to build a habit to recheck what they read. Hence we encourage people to check out the source and validate the news they are reading,” adds Ankita.
You may also like to read: MIT Graduate develops an algorithm that lets you authenticate a piece of news ‘Logically’
With the data that we get from the app users, the team finds meaningful observations and perform rich analytics to better tackle the problem. The data reveals the leading indicators of what makes people fall for fake news. For example, does an image have an impact on perceptions or does a negative statement change the perception, etc? The Average Awareness Score, on the Litmus App, is 67%. However, it is as low as 22% for cleverly manufactured fake news cards. 7 out of 10 people click on the source to read more when they doubt the cleverly manufactured fake news cards. This is a fair indication that aware citizens want the real news, given they’re informed enough. Their curiosity to receive the right information makes it all the more hopeful.
Though there have been several attempts by social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook to stop the spreading of fake news and minimize the creation of fake news on their platform, Ankita and her team believe that the better solution is to educate news consumers. Litmus also provides reports to the users on how aware they are, hence making them advocates of the campaign against fake news and stories. The team is extremely hopeful that there will be a time where citizens won’t be misled by random information. The recipe to create such a solution was simple for Ankita. “You can build on your idea with the least resources. Take it to a relatively larger audience, get feedback. Then reiterate and finally create something impactful.” Litmus App is available to download on the play store for Free.