Universiteit Leiden

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Generating fake news automatically as a research project

By spreading fake news via TV spots and Twitter with the use of Social Bots, Pascal professor Heike Trautmann is investigating the characteristics of fake news. She is calling on Leiden researchers to cooperate in the project.

Trautmann presented her research during the Pascal lecture yesterday. The professor of Statistics and Data Science at the University of Münster, is holder of the Pascal chair at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) this year.

Dismantle by spreading

‘We know that fake news exists and that it is spread on purpose. Leiden University is even helping actively to dismantle fake news. As computer scientists, we would like to automate this process, by determining the characteristics of fake news. For that, we are first actively engaging in spreading fake news in a protected environment.’

Social bots

Together with students, her Münster research group is creating social bots in Münster. ‘Social bots are automatic systems that can send out messages themselves. As from April, we will have the social bots spread fake news. They will retrieve their information from reliable journalistic websites and from social media like Facebook. Then, we will challenge a group of students to detect our fake news.’

Twitter Hot Topic list

‘We did a similar project on fake opinion tweets in December, together with a national TV broadcast cooperation. We created 30 social bots and sent out opinion tweets automatically. Within a week we had 1500 followers and were on the Twitter Hot Topic list in Germany. Afterwards, we broadcast a TV spot and also sent it to our followers, explaining that it was all fake. In this new project, we are making it a little bit more extreme with news instead of opinions. We would like to determine the crucial characteristics of a fake message. When we have done that, we can hopefully start to work on prevention methods.’

Workshop

Trautmann would like to cooperate with Leiden researchers. ‘I believe that, in this project, but also on my other work on automatic systems, we can benefit one another. Next Thursday, LIACS is organising a workshop for all University colleagues with an interest in the future of digital techniques for Humanities. Project coordinator Christian Grimme of PropStop, our fake news project, will be there, too.’