Is that fake news? Ask FactCheck Africa’s AI tool

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FactCheck Africa has built an AI tool that allows people to verify news within seconds on a simple web page that’s translatable in five languages.

Fake news in Nigeria affects election outcomes, security, and even banter among friends. Fake news has caused deaths during health emergencies like Ebola and misinformation leading to vaccine refusal as seen during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

A civic society organisation (CSO), Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative (BBYDI), through its new project FactCheck Africa, has built an AI-powered tool called My AI Factcheck, to help Nigerians tackle fake news.

The Global Director of BBYDI, Abideen Olasupo, told TechCabal in a virtual call that with their civic tech tool, My AI Factcheck, “we are covering disinformation and misinformation on governance and accountability, around climate change and SDGs.”

Alamin Musa, who leads product development for BBYDI mentioned during the call that “FactCheck Africa uses AI and credible news sources to verify claims.” 

How exactly does that work?

An ABC solution

FactCheck Africa’s mission is clear: to empower individuals with the tools to distinguish fact from fiction. To achieve this, Musa said they “harness a synergy of artificial intelligence and reputable news sources. Combining Google’s fact-checking API with the GPT-4 model, FactCheck Africa ensures its arsenal is robust and technologically advanced.”

At the core of FactCheck Africa’s solution lies a user-friendly web application. Users simply input a claim, and the AI engine springs into action. It combs the internet and scours top-tier news outlets to scrutinise the claim’s validity. The result? A resolute stamp of truth or an honest acknowledgement of uncertainty when the AI cannot provide a definitive answer. Transparency, they believe, is a cornerstone of trustworthy fact-checking.

TechCabal tried out the tool with a popular fake news about the death of Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s former President, and the result returned within seconds, showing two primary sources, 18 secondary sources, a sentiment analysis, and a fake news verdict.

But it doesn’t stop there. The organisation pairs this technology with insights from trustworthy journalistic sources, creating a hybrid system designed for accuracy and reliability. 

While the solution seems a useful simple tool for people who can access it, there’s a concern for people who can’t access the internet for such a tool. To this, Olasupo explained that “FactCheck Africa is driven by a vision of accessibility. During the Nigerian elections, we did radio programs that reached more than ten million people. We’ll use the Radio to spread more fact-checks. We will also build USSD code solutions and provide a toll-free number where people can call us and our in-hour fact-checkers will verify news for the callers.” 

FactCheck Africa wants to ensure that anyone, from any background, can access fact-checking easily. One of the notable features of their FactChecking web tool is a translation feature including five languages: English, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and French—languages predominantly spoken across West Africa.

FactCheck Africa’s future

At different times, BBYDI has set up projects to tackle misinformation and fake news. In 2020, BBYDI set up KnowCovid19Ng to educate Nigerians on COVID-19 misinformation. In the buildup to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the CSO started the Factcheck elections Ng project to validate claims from politicians to reduce the virality of fake news. When the elections ended and fake news did not stop, BBYDI, through what is now FactCheck Africa, started building the My AI Factcheck tool to house all their numerous projects under one solution for tackling fake news in Nigeria and West Africa.

“Last month [September 2023], we went for the US West African Tech Challenge and I’m happy to tell you that we were finalists in the competition. The financial support we will be getting from them will help us to expand into other West African countries easily,” Olasupo told TechCabal.

While Olasupo says they’re yet to know the exact amount, the competition promises $250,000 for finalists. One of FactCheck Africa’s plans for the grant is a new phase of media literacy which includes partnering with the Nigerian Union of Journalists body to reach more people, and a gamification model of their AI tool to onboard teenagers.

“We are building a gamified fact-checking platform that puts players in the role of a fake news writer and encourages them to get as many followers as they can without losing credibility. Our research has shown that more kids will be interested in learning about how to counter misinformation and disinformation if it’s gamified rather than discussing it in classrooms,” Oladupo further explained.

The civic tech tool’s future, while well-defined, will face several challenges, including adoption from users. However, the group is confident that their experience with civic advocacy gives them an edge in reaching people in different communities across Nigeria and West Africa.

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