Verily crowd sources truth amid dis-information

Here’s an interesting one, for our ‘Age of Disinformation’. Researchers at the University of Southampton have helped to develop a system for gathering evidence and information during disaster situations. The hope is it will enable more effective emergency responses.

Verily challenge

Verily challenge

The university writes:

Accurate information can be life-saving in extreme situations, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. However, finding out the accuracy of that information from the vast amount of contradictory material that is posted on social media channels is becoming increasingly difficult. While such channels are useful for identifying and sharing content, they are not the right tools for verification, which requires searching for evidence rather than liking or retweeting.

The website – designed by researchers from the University of Southampton, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the UAE and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) – was concerned with crowdsourcing the verification of information during disasters.

Various questions were asked and users were invited to submit evidence justifying their answer (image, video, or text). Note that it is now closed, but you can see the gist with the question page

For example, a photo of a street was posted with the question: Is this street in Rome. The photo was taken from a personal archive and was actually in the Italian town of Caltagirone in Sicily. The question was answered correctly within four hours by a user who submitted another picture of the same street.

The website states:

We live in the Information Age… or the Disinformation Age. Finding out the truth in the vast amount of contradictory information is becoming increasingly difficult for everyone.

Can a coordinated collective effort be effective in quickly discerning true answers to key questions? We designed the Verily Challenge to test this.

According to Victor Naroditskiy, a research fellow in Electronics and Computer Science at the University, who worked on Verily:

“The lack of verifiability of content posted on social media is the main reason preventing humanitarian and news organisations from making a wider use of it.

“The rationale for Verily is that the collective effort of people searching for the truth will be fruitful. Examples of the tremendous power of collective effort can be seen in projects like Wikipedia, and closer to home in experiments like the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge. In this 2009 challenge, 10 red weather balloons moored at secret locations throughout the US were discovered within nine hours through a mass mobilisation over social media channels.”

Verily was invented by Carlos Castillo (QCRI), Patrick Meier (QCRI), Victor Naroditskiy (Southampton) and Iyad Rahwan (Masdar). The technical development of the platform was by Masters students Luis Arenal Mijares, Alex Greenland and Dimitrios Papamiliosin from the Web Technology MSc programme at the University of Southampton led by Enrico Costanza and Victor Naroditskiy. Justine Mackinnon (QCRI) together with the Southampton team organised the public trial of the platform.

Victor and Enrico research crowdsourcing in the context of ORCHID, a multidisciplinary EPSRC-funded project developing the science and technologies for human-agent collectives, with disaster response as a key application area.


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