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September 25, 2017; Poynter

The Knight Foundation’s pattern of investing in new technology in the realm of journalism is still quite evident in their latest initiative, anchored by the Knight Commission on Trust, Media, and Democracy. The project hits three out of their four funding areas and seems likely to capture public interest.

Knight has invested $2.5 million to “explore causes for the erosion of trust in democratic institutions, in particular the press. It will also identify new thinking and solutions around rebuilding trust.” As the Poynter Institute notes, this includes $1.3 million earmarked for fact-checking projects. (Although Poynter does have a fact-checking forum, they were not among the grant recipients.)

The fact-checking founded by this new initiative is not your usual process; in keeping with their past tendencies towards funding the bright and shiny, Knight is investing in unproven technology. The goal is to have artificial intelligence (AI)–powered fact-checkers that could “provide real-time debunking and quickly correct misinformation when journalists are in a bind, such as having fact checks appear alongside claims online.”

Several large news outlets—including the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Reuters—already use AI in one form or another to support and streamline their reporting. The projects funded by the Knight initiative, however, will be directly user-facing and are intended to increase the credibility for the organizations that use them. We are squirming a little even as we write this.

Poynter reports there are already other funders in the automated fact-checking space; the Open Society Foundations and the Omidyar Network have put $500,000 into British fact-checking charity Full Fact, whose software purportedly scans the statements made by politicians for their validity.

Knight’s larger initiative will also fund projects to “help strengthen connections between local newsrooms and their communities,” develop “open-source software toolkits to help newsrooms convey their commitment to ethics,” and “track and test different ways of responding to misinformation” at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.—Erin Rubin