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IU researchers develop free website to track spread of fake news

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A team of researchers at Indiana University have developed a website that allows you to track the spread of fake news stories online.

The tool, called Hoaxy, tracks how many times an article has been shared, and who's sharing it publicly.

It's the brainchild of Professor Filippo Menczer, Director of IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research. Menczer has been studying fake news since before most people knew it was a possibility.

"We’ve been predicting that this might happen for several years, but then it has been happening really, really fast just in the last couple of years," Menczer said.

The team was originally developing the software for research purposes, but with the recent explosion in fake news stories making its way into the mainstream consciousness, they decided to take it public.

Research scientist Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia showed FOX59 how the website works.

"The first step for a user is to search a claim," Ciampaglia said.

The engine shows you articles related to that claim in green, as well as fact check articles from third party sites in yellow. Each article notes how many times it's been shared on Twitter and Facebook. You can select as many articles as you'd like, then click "Visualize" on the top of the site.

The site then makes a virtual web of who's been tweeting the article publicly, with bigger dots showing bigger influencers. You can click each link to see exactly what was shared and who passed it on.

Menczer said the site is not meant to tell you if an article is reputable or not, but instead it allows the user to see how an idea goes viral and check fact checking articles to decide for themselves.

"Until we understand this phenomenon, we can’t have very effective counter measures," Menczer said.

The tool is new, so Menczer is hoping the general public, researchers, and journalists will use it and give feedback. As for whether people in the general public want to know if an article is real or not, Menczer is optimistic.

"My opinion is that the majority of people do want to believe that the information that they see is reliable," Menczer said.

To check out Hoaxy, you can go to the link here.