Mozilla, the company that spurred innovation on the web with its Firefox browser, now hopes to help solve the fake news problem.
The company is launching a new program to tackle the issue. Dubbed the Mozilla Information Trust Initiative (MITI), the project is aimed at bringing together companies and interest groups from around the web to better understand the fake news problem and figure out what, if anything, can be done to fix it.
“We believe that having more eyes and brains on anything usually makes it better,” said Katharina Borchert, Mozilla’s chief innovation officer.
For Mozilla, taking on fake news isn’t a sideshow from its software projects. The company sees misinformation as counter to what it says is its central mission — making the Internet a global public resource. For the web to be a healthy place for users, it can’t be polluted by misinformation, Borchert said.
“If we don’t manage to lessen the mental burden on people constantly worrying if information is trustworthy, it lessens the value of the open web for everyone who participates, and poses a lot of problems downstream,” she said.
Related to the new project, Mozilla will soon be publishing a report on how misinformation affects online users. The company’s researchers examined the news consumption habits of a subset of Firefox users — with their permission — during the period leading up to and after the 2016 election. The resulting study will discuss how many new fake websites popped up, how much fake news was consumed, and how that fake coverage affected people’s behaviour.
Mozilla is encouraging other companies to look back at their own user data, so that all involved can get a better understanding of the issue. Borchert knows there is no “silver bullet” that everyone can implement but hopes that through the new initiative, companies might be able to at least agree on a single body of research. She’s hoping they can agree on questions and methodology they can use to study the issue.
“The more we know about the topic and what people actually look at and how are they affected by that, the better we can design interventions for them,” said Borchert.
The MITI project won’t just be studying the fake news problem. For example, as part of the initiative, Mozilla will be doubling down its work on existing products like Coral, which is an open source program designed to help newsrooms to better manage online discussions.
Mozilla will also be trying to come up with ways to illustrate how fake news affects people and plays on their emotions. Among the possibilities they’re considering: a virtual reality experience and some kind of art installation.