ImageA lie detector is being designed specifically for social media in order to try and verify online rumours.

Most people will know Pheme as the figure in Greek mythology who was once described as “she who initiates and furthers communication” but very soon that name could be renown for analysing every single public comment a person makes on the Internet. 

The system that is being designed with the name “Pheme” will analyse whether a posting online is true, or just fabrication. It will also cleverly recognise whether certain accounts have been created purely to spread false information. The objective is to help organisations, mainly governments and emergency services.  In theory it will allow them to respond more effectively to serious events.

The project spawned out of research during the London riots in 2011.  The research was analysing how social media was being used during the riots, and in the aftermath it was decided that the data that will be analysed would include posts from Twitter, comments in healthcare forums and public comments on Facebook.  This was after the suggestion by some that social networks should have been shut down during and after the riots so that organisers couldn’t plan further skulduggery.

The researchers say that online rumours will be fractured into four types:

Speculation – financial changes in the system, for example

Controversy – the MMR vaccine

Misinformation – where something untrue unintentionally

Disinformation – where false information is spread with intent

The system will measure and categorise certain profiles to assess their authority.  These would include news outlets, journalists and eye witness accounts that automatically generate social media posts.  It will examine the history of the account to ensure that it has not been created purely to spread information that is not true.

This brings up a massive ethical argument though as humanity already lives in a world where the watching eye of the government and corporate organisations is so prevalent; do people want the history of their personal accounts being assessed by a lie detector?  Of course if it works then the creators will back their idea, but the issue remains that the privacy is a dying luxury, and there seems to be a thin veil of justification when arguing why the world needs this intrusive creation.

On the other side of the coin there has been some quite vicious rumours spread across Twitter in particular of recent.  Examples of this being Jony Ive resigning from Apple, Justin Beiber being dead, and the army being called in to deal with the riots in London.  All of these were reported across social media site but none of them had an ounce of truth in them.  Most of the rumours are just an annoyance but when there are lives at risk such as the riots then it becomes a more sinister issue.

Dr Bontcheva admitted, “Only text will be analysed,” due to photo analysis being “too technically difficult.”  The results though will be displayed on a “visual dashboard” so that users can see if a rumour is taking hold. 

The project is still in the early stages with the first set of results expected in 18 months, and it will be tested on a group of healthcare professionals and journalists.  The project will run for three years and involves five universities: Sheffield, Warwick, Kings College London, Saarland in Germany and Modul in Vienna.

It is a project that will undoubtedly change the atmosphere of social networking due to the inevitable early paranoia that will set in.  False guilt will sweep the social networking sites early on, and there are ethical concerns involved due to an already observed humanity who may react angrily to this new project.  With that said there would be benefits for the emergency services, which is a massive, plus, especially in big scale events such as natural disaster and community disruption.

With test results due in around 18 months, there is a possibility that the lie detector will not be a Jeremy Kyle exclusive for much longer.