Building on the work of some of the most influential minds in the field of philosophy, computational communication specialists from the two universities hope to educate the public on misinformation relating to the pandemic.
The Fake News Immunity Chatbot draws on the musings and ideas of great classical thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates and Georgias, introducing users to their rhetorical strategies – or fallacies – while simultaneously testing susceptibility to a range of fake and semi-fake news items.
Through an engaging quiz-like format, the platform educates users in how to navigate coronavirus misinformation – which is known to spread faster than the disease itself.
In August this year, the BBC reported that at least 800 globally people may have died due to coronavirus misinformation between January and March 2020.
Misinformation – otherwise known as ‘semi-fake news’ – is categorised as information that is misleading but was not intentionally fabricated, unlike disinformation or fake news.
“We hope that with our chatbot, people will develop critical thinking that strengthens their digital literacy and helps them and their communities to become more resilient to information manipulation” – Dr Elena Musi, University of Liverpool
Dr Elena Musi of Liverpool’s Department of Communication and Media, is leading the project. She commented: “This is the first attempt to leverage human-computer interaction to try and help the public acquire the skills needed to recognise the grey area of misinformation.
“Our chatbot is unique as it allows people to play and be trained by the greatest thinkers and become their own fact-checkers. You can play by yourself or encourage family, friends or colleagues to join in so you can quiz each other.
“Learning together and helping each other to understand how news is produced for different purposes provides the necessary skills needed to flag misleading content in our news feeds.”
Through the chatbot, users choose a persona before being led through a discourse with three philosophers, as each instils their rhetoric discipline: Aristotle explains the 10 fallacies; Socrates emphasises the need to question everything; and Georgias challenges mainstream opinions.
Tackling three unique levels – credulous, skeptic and agnostic – users must compete for points shaped like gadflies – alluding to Plato’s description of Socrates as a gadfly stinging people with questions to keep them on a virtuous path.
“We hope that with our chatbot, people will develop critical thinking that strengthens their digital literacy and helps them and their communities to become more resilient to information manipulation,” added Dr Musi.
“Acquiring critical digital literacy collectively, can help us build a healthier, stronger and smarter democracy.”
The chatbot was launched as part of the UKRI-funded Being Alone Together: Building Fake News Immunity project, which seeks to address the proliferation of misinformation – described by the World Health Organisation as an ‘infodemic’ – by helping the general public build ‘fake news immunity’.