Researchers at Monash University Malaysia have developed a platform that rewards and punishes users based on the reliability of their posts.

Using a machine learning model trained on forum sites like Reddit, StackExchange and Quora, the team led by Dr Ian Lim Wern Han built a platform that gives users scores which affects the way their content is seen.

“If users are credible, their content will be placed higher up on the page for more visibility and their Reddit votes will be worth more when they vote on other threads or comment,” Dr Lim said.

“If a user is deemed untrustworthy, their post will be placed lower on the page or even in some cases hidden from the public altogether and their votes have less worth.”

The research offers a different approach to the way social media algorithms aggregate and rank content by giving more credence to credibility opposed to popularity.

"How can we classify the social media influence of a person who could potentially be spreading misinformation?

“Recently in the US, players in the National Basketball Association made headlines for their beliefs that the COVID-19 pandemic was being overblown and that there was a hidden agenda to it.

“Each time these players share a tweet, they have the ability to influence millions of people, for this reason it’s essential that we prevent the spread of misinformation online.”

Australian academics from the University of Western Australia and the Australian National University (ANU) recently joined a group of 22 international university researchers in creating the Debunking Handbook 2020 – a free resource designed to help people better understand the machinations of misinformation and how to stop its spread.

“The book describes how we can combat misinformation and fake news through intensive debunking or inoculating people against misleading information before it is encountered,” said co-author Dr Eryn Newman from ANU.

“Cognitive biases that lull us into believing information are insidious, and even when we know we are susceptible, it can be difficult to fight them off.”

The social media struggle

Misinformation has been an ongoing problem for social media platforms that was exacerbated as COVID-19 spread.

Viral ideas – even if thoroughly debunked – can have real-world consequences, such as when people in the UK began torching 5G towers because they believed next generation telecommunications networks were linked to coronavirus.

Social media companies have taken different approaches to fighting the spread of misinformation including the flagging misleading presidential tweets and the wholesale ban of certain posts or articles.

Just this week, Facebook said it was banning Holocaust denial content and ads that discouraged vaccines in a pair of simultaneous announcements.

But blanket moderation policies have caused additional problems for the likes of Facebook and Twitter in the lead up to the US election with president Donald Trump threatening to repeal legislation that protects internet companies from being liable for the content shared by their users.

The US president tweeted to “REPEAL SECTION 230” after Twitter and Facebook both limited the spread of an article from News Corp’s New York Post which contained alleged emails from candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, linking him to officials in Ukraine.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey then apologised for the incident saying it was “unacceptable” to block a URL without giving users more context.