They came from around the country. They came from around the world, Journalists. Professors. Librarians. Software Developers. Activists, and Data Scientists. A gathering that ordinarily would have taken months of planning and a team of organizers and programmers was instead the work of a handful of hardworking volunteers and a quickly put together group of not-for-profits.
The location was the MIT Media Lab. And the hundred who convened – curated from hundreds of applications – met to take on an issue fueled by the President of the United States. The topic was Fake News, and just the mention of the claims and counter claims now roiling journalism made for a frothy three days in Cambridge, Mass.
MisInfoCon set out with high expectations – to gather, share ideas, brainstorm and then engage in a marathon two-day hackathon. The goal was to do more than talk, but rather to build things. Not finished projects, but to build prototypes and 3-minute long presentations that could foster reactions and solutions.
With attendees ready engage, no one left disappointed.
The conference began with two 45 minute sessions with a wide range of topics including “The influence of fear on the truth,” “Combating echo chambers,” and “Are we bringing fact checkers to a knife fight?” I facilitate a topic titled “Balancing human and algorithmic fact-based content.” Around our table gathered people from Google, Amazon’s Alexa Team, a college librarian, and an entrepreneur specializing in open-source FOIA document discovery. We dug in and found ourselves asking some hard questions about algorithms and transparency. When a website offers news headlines, should we tell users if it’s been collected by a bot, or edited by a human or a hybrid of both? The answer – everyone agreed – was that transparency was far better than opacity.
Then the massive pink post-it notes came out, and it was time to hack. Anyone with an idea was able to post it on the wall, and then people browsed projects and broke into teams. By 1 p.m. I was part of the “Empathy Accelerator” team – a remarkable mix of developers, a community manager, a librarian, and a public radio social media producer. Together we brainstormed, wrote, edited, sketched – trying to find a solution to the question: “ow can we get people with divergent points of view to hear each other? Trying to replace antagonism with empathy. We worked till 10 pm, then returned at 9 a.m. Sunday morning to craft a 3-minute presentation that would answer the question: “What can we do to address the fact that people are more likely to believe misinformation if they don’t understand each other. Empathy breaks down guards that people put up in fear.” And, here’s the result of 8 people working side by side, non-stop, for two days:
By 3 p.m. on Sunday, 23 projects were ready to present to the group. The tone was energized. The presentations a mix of wild schemes and solid workable solutions. I’ll share a few links and you can decide for yourself. Mapping News Inequality, You Shared It, Meme-inar, and FakeNewsFitness.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the spirit of full transparency – every one of the groups slide decks are posted HERE. So check them out – and see if there is an idea or a group that sparks your interest. These are starting points for projects some of which are sure to continue to grow.
Steven Rosenbaum is serial entrepreneur, author, and filmmaker. His latest book, Curate This! is in print and ebook on Amazon.com. He is the CEO of Waywire.com (enterprise.waywire.com)