Fake news? App will help State of the Union viewers sort out fact, fiction

A project from Duke University aims to vet politicians' claims in real time and put the facts in the palm of your hand.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol bureau chief
DURHAM, N.C. — A project from Duke University aims to vet politicians' claims in real time and put the facts in the palm of your hand.

FactStream will get its first beta test on a national scale during President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"In this chaotic media environment we're in, people get lots of information from many different sources, and they often wonder, 'Is that true?'" said Bill Adair, the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke, who developed FactStream with a programmer at the University of Missouri.

"So, we're answering that for them. Now we can do that in real time using technology," Adair said.

The FactStream app, which is available for free download in the Apple Store, will go live when major political speeches or debates are underway. Journalists from Politifact, and The Washington Post will upload real-time fact checks as statements are made, along with links to background information in some cases and a button to let users share each post on social media.

Advances in programming have made the app possible, Adair said.

"It’s important to do now, I think, because we’re in a moment in our political discourse when some people disregard facts and when there is often disagreement about facts," he said. "This is accountability journalism. The fact-checkers, just as journalists have done for decades, are holding people accountable for what they say. What’s new now is that we can do that using technology in an automated way to a much broader audience."

Adair and his team also have developed a similar app for Amazon Alexa called Share the Facts. They built a database of fact-checks by certified news outlets, and Alexa searches that database to answer questions.

He said he hopes the fact-checking apps can eventually be made to work with smart televisions so fact-checks can pop up on the same screen – and maybe even be used to check campaign commercials.

"What I think we have starting here in the U.S. is a really important service at a critical time that we have such need for people to know the truths about things so they can assess what they’re hearing in public discourse," Adair said.


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