20 Projects Receive Funding to Combat Misinformation and Build a More Trustworthy Public Square

June 22, 2017

The Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Rita Allen Foundation announced today that twenty projects seeking to improve the flow of accurate information will split $1 million to explore and develop early-stage ideas, programs, and prototypes.

In moments of uncertainty and volatility it can be tempting to gravitate towards a single solution to the pressing problem of misinformation and low public trust facing our media, technology, and democracy. However, when it comes to rebuilding the public square and ensuring what is shared is accurate information there are no silver bullets. As such, the projects receiving funding today represent a wide array of ideas and approaches from cognitive psychology and community engagement to computer science and news literacy.

Many of the winners leverage new technology, such as artificial intelligence, to identify and push back on efforts pollute our information ecosystem, while others turned to techniques rooted in education and organizing. Taken together these twenty projects represent a diverse cohort of individuals and institutions who will spend the next nine months grappling with the many questions that surround the role of truth and trust in our media, politics and society.

Out of the twenty total organizations receiving Prototype Fund grants, Democracy Fund supported four specific projects which will each receive $50,000.

Viz Lab (Project leads: Caroline Sinders | San Francisco | @carolinesinders, Susie Cagle | Oakland | @susie_c, Francis Tseng | Brooklyn | @frnsys): Developing a dashboard to track and visualize images and ‘memes,’ as common sources of fake news, to enable journalists and researchers to more easily understand the origins of the image, its promoters, and where it might have been altered and then redistributed.

The Documenters Project by City Bureau (Project lead: Darryl Holliday | Chicago | @d_holli, @city_bureau): Strengthening local media coverage and building trust in journalism by creating an online network of citizen “documenters” who receive training in the use of journalistic ethics and tools, attend public civic events, and produce short summaries that are posted online as a public resource. City Bureau will create and test a field manual to help others replicate the model.

Hoaxy Bot-o-Meter by Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research (Project lead: Filippo Menczer | Bloomington, Indiana | @Botometer, @truthyatindiana): Developing a tool to uncover attempts to use Internet bots to boost the spread of misinformation and shape public opinion. The tool aims to reveal how this information is generated and broadcasted, how it becomes viral, its overall reach, and how it competes with accurate information for placement on user feeds.

Media Literacy @ Your Library by American Library Association in collaboration with the Center for News Literacy (Project lead: Samantha Oakley | Chicago | @ALALibrary, @NewsLiteracy): Developing an adult media literacy program in five public libraries, including a series of online learning sessions, resources, and an in-person workshop to train library workers to help patrons become more informed media consumers.

The other projects include numerous other Democracy Fund grantees and partners working on fact-checking, debunking viral disinformation, and mining digital archives for context. The sixteen other winners are:

Breaking filter bubbles in science journalism by the University of California, Santa Cruz

(Project lead: Erika Check Hayden | Santa Cruz, California @Erika_Check | @UCSC_SciCom): Producing visually-engaging science journalism around topics such as climate change and genetics, to determine whether content delivered by a trusted messenger in a culturally-relevant context has greater reach. The articles will be tested through the digital platform, which distributes curated content to users across ideological divides.

Calling Bullshit in the Age of Fake News by the University of Washington (Project lead: Jevin West | Seattle @jevinwest, @UW_iSchool): Developing a curriculum and set of tools to teach students and the public to better assess quantitative information and combat misinformation—with a particular emphasis on data, visualizations, and statistics.

ChartCheck by Periscopic (Project lead: Megan Mermis | Portland, Oregon | @periscopic): Addressing the spread of misinformation through charts, graphs, and data visualizations by fact-checking these resources and publishing results. The team will also build tools to address the spread of these charts on social media and the Internet.

Crosscheck by Vanderbilt University in collaboration with First Draft (Project lead: Lisa Fazio and Claire Wardle | Nashville, Tennessee | @lkfazio, @cward1e, @firstdraftnews, @crosscheck): Using design features to make correct news more memorable, so that people can recall it more easily when faced with false information, using a platform initially developed in France to address misinformation around the French election.

Facts Matter by PolitiFact (Project lead: Aaron Sharockman | St. Petersburg, Florida | @asharock, @PolitiFact): Helping to improve trust in fact-checking, particularly among people who identify as conservative, through experiments including in-person events; a mobile-game that tracks misconceptions about specific facts; diverse commentators who would assess fact-checking reports; and a study of the language used in these reports to determine their effect on perceptions of trustworthiness.

Glorious ContextuBot by Bad Idea Factory (Project lead: Daniel Schultz | Philadelphia | @biffud, @slifty): Helping people become better consumers of online audio and video content through a tool that provides the original source of individual clips and identifies who else has discussed it on the news.

Immigration Lab by Univision News (Project lead: Ronny Rojas | Miami | @ronnyrojas, @UniNoticias): Engaging undocumented immigrants on issues that affect their lives by creating a reliable news resource to help them access and gather information. The project team will do on-the-ground research in communities with a high percentage of undocumented immigrants and learn about their media literacy skills, news consumption habits and needs, and trusted information sources.

KQED Learn by KQED (Project lead: Randall Depew | San Francisco | @randydepew, @KQEDEdSpace): Encouraging young people to ask critical questions that deepen learning and improve media literacy through KQED Learn, a free online platform for students and teachers that reveals ways to ask good questions, investigate answers and share conclusions.

News Inequality Project by Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram (Project leads: Hamdan Azhar, Cathy Deng, Christian MilNeil, and Leslie Shapiro | Portland, Maine | @HamdanAzhar, @cthydng, @c_milneil, @lmshap, @pressherald): Developing a web-based analytics dashboard to help media organizations and community organizers understand how – and how often – different communities are covered in news outlets over time.

News Quality Score Project (Project lead: Frederic Filloux | Palo Alto, California | @filloux): Creating a tool to surface quality journalism from the web, at scale and in real-time, through algorithms and machine learning. The tool will evaluate and score content on criteria ranging from the notoriety of authors and publishers to an analysis of various components of the story structure. by PBS NewsHour and Miles O’Brien Productions (Project lead: Cameron Hickey | Washington, D.C. | @cameronhickey, @newshour) : Developing a tool that combines online news content with engagement data from social media and other sources to help journalists and others better understand the scale, scope, and shape of the misinformation problem. The tool will enable content analysis by gathering data about what is being written, by whom, where it is distributed, and the size of the audience consuming it.

Putting Civic Online Reasoning in Civics Class by Stanford History Education Group/Stanford University (Project lead: Sam Wineburg | Stanford, California | @SHEF_Stanford, @samwineburg): Creating professional development resources for teachers to become better consumers of digital content, in addition to classroom-ready materials that they can use to help students find and assess information online.

Social Media Interventions by Boston University (Project lead: Jacob Groshek | Boston | @jgroshek, @EMSatBU): Experimenting with the effectiveness of real-time online interventions, such as direct messages to users who post or share false information, with people who are sharing known misinformation online. (Project lead: Danny Rogers | Baltimore, Maryland): Helping to curb the financial incentives of creating misleading content with automatically-updated lists of “fake news” websites and easy-to-deploy tools that allow ad buyers to block, in bulk, the domains where misinformation is propagated.

Who Said What by Joostware (Project lead: Delip Rao | San Francisco | @deliprao, @joostware): Helping people more easily fact-check audio and video news clips with a search tool that annotates millions of these clips and allows users to explore both what is said and the identity of the speaker.

Technical Schema for Credibility by Meedan in collaboration with Hacks and Hackers (Project lead: Xiao Mina | San Francisco | @anxiaostudio, @meedan, @hackshackers): Creating a clear, standardized framework to define the credibility of a piece of content, how conclusions about its credibility were reached, and how to communicate that credibility effectively.

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