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Microsoft Reports Progress with Project to Fight Online Misinformation

FILE - A man walks past a Microsoft sign set up for the Microsoft BUILD conference, April 28, 2015, at Moscone Center in San Francisco. (AP Photo)
FILE - A man walks past a Microsoft sign set up for the Microsoft BUILD conference, April 28, 2015, at Moscone Center in San Francisco. (AP Photo)
Microsoft Reports Progress with Project to Fight Online Misinformation
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American technology company Microsoft is reporting progress with a program that aims to fight misinformation online.

Leaders of the project recently spoke to The Associated Press about the effort. Microsoft teamed up with the nonprofit Trust Project last year to suggest tools to help users find trustworthy news sources. The Trust Project is a group of linked news organizations.

Microsoft and the Trust Project created advertisements that direct internet users to a list of eight “trust indicators” that can be used to judge websites. One indicator is whether opinion writing is clearly identified. Others provide guidelines for recognizing good reporting methods, identifying bias and finding quality news sources.

Microsoft said most of the people who saw their indicators said the guidelines improved their ability to judge which online news sources were trustworthy and which ones contained misinformation.

“This was a bit of an experiment for us,” said Ginny Badanes, director of Microsoft's Democracy Forward Initiative. The group is part of Microsoft’s efforts to get involved in online reporting and democracy. Badanes told The Associated Press, "The world is changing very quickly and people need tools to equip themselves.”

Services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been blamed for fueling political divisions and reducing trust in democratic systems.

There are already many existing efforts that say they are aimed at fighting online misinformation. These include fact-checking services. These services seek to examine news stories gaining wide public attention and to explain whether they are true or not. But these services require a lot of research and workers, are not seen by many people, and are not likely to persuade people already distrustful of the media.

Another way to fight online misinformation is through the moderation efforts of technology companies themselves. But these efforts have failed to satisfy many critics of social media services. And legislative efforts to force technology companies to do more policing themselves have been slow to progress.

But some measures designed to increase critical thinking skills and media literacy have shown success. These are aimed at helping people learn how to identify misinformation themselves. Last year, Google launched a series of videos on YouTube in Eastern Europe that were designed to teach people how misinformation works. That campaign was recently expanded to Germany.

Sally Lehrman is a reporter and chief executive at the Trust Project. She told the AP there are important signs to look for when seeking trustworthy news organizations. These organizations will identify their sources, present diverse voices and require their workers to observe rules aimed at producing high quality reporting.

In the experiment, users of Microsoft products and systems, including email, were shown ads. Over a six-month period, the ads led to twice as many people visiting the project's site. About 62 percent of those who visited the site said it helped them feel more confident about judging online information.

Lehrman said she was pleased by the results of the indicator guidelines. She noted that short internet ads are a low-cost, easy answer compared to complex legislative efforts or policing attempts by tech companies themselves.

Lehrman said the need for media literacy programs is increasingly needed as new artificial intelligence methods make misinformation easier than ever to create and spread.

Lehrman said the research proves that many people will read ads that offer help in dealing with online misinformation. But she added that the ads must be effective in getting people's attention.

“Are we asking people to eat their broccoli? I always reject that because I think broccoli is delicious,” she said. “But we have to make it delicious.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English, with additional information from the Trust Project.


Words in This Story

source n. where something comes from

indicator – n. a condition that shows what something is like or how it is changing

bias – n. a situation in which you support or oppose something in an unfair way because you are influenced by personal opinions

moderate v. to make sure the rules of an internet discussion are not broken

literate – adj. having knowledge or competence in a certain area

diverse – adj. including many different kinds of something

confident adj. sure about your ability to do things well

delicious – adj. tasting very good


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