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Communications of the ACM


Reason-Checking Fake News

mobile phone displays News page

Credit: R. Classen

While deliberate misinformation and deception are by no means new societal phenomena, the recent rise of fake news5 and information silos2 has become a growing international concern, with politicians, governments and media organizations regularly lamenting the issue. A remedy to this situation, we argue, could be found in using technology to empower people's ability to critically assess the quality of information, reasoning, and argumentation through technological means. Recent empirical findings suggest "false news spreads more than the truth because humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it."10 Thus, instead of continuing to focus on ways of limiting the efficacy of bots, educating human users to better recognize fake news stories could prove more effective in mitigating the potentially devastating social impact misinformation poses. While technology certainly contributes to the distribution of fake news and similar attacks on reasonable decision-making and debate, we posit that technology—argument technology in particular—can equally be employed to counterbalance these deliberately misleading or outright false reports made to look like genuine news.

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From Fact-Checking to Reason-Checking

The ability to properly assess the quality of premises and reasoning in persuasive or explanatory texts—critical literacy—is a powerful tool in combating the problem posed by fake news. According to a 2017 Knight-Gallup survey, one in five U.S. adults feels "not too confident" or "not confident at all" in distinguishing fact from opinion in news reporting.a Similarly, in the U.K., the National Literacy Trust recently reported that one in five British children cannot properly distinguish between reliable online news sources and fake news, concluding that strengthening critical literacy skills would help in identifying fake news.b


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