The Newsroom uses a transparent artificial intelligence software to prevent the spread of misinformation and improve democracy

It started with Pedro Henriques and Jenny Romano becoming friends in business school in Paris. After graduation, both became insiders in the world of big tech companies. In Dublin, Jenny worked in advertising at Google, and Pedro led a team of data science analysts at LinkedIn.

They found that they both shared a concern about how misinformation on the Internet was polarising politics, degrading discourse and making it difficult to solve big problems.

“What really worried me was realising that misinformation was at the base of pretty much every big issue that we’re facing as a society,” Pedro says. “If we think of political disruption and climate change, and then, in the past couple of years, if we think of what happened with the pandemic, misinformation is really at the base of being able to solve problems effectively or not.”

For her part, Jenny was starting to notice a change in the quality of conversations with people. “The feeling I got over the past six years is that conversations get very extreme very fast,” she says. “And conversations are the basis of a healthy democracy.”

With a nod to old-school journalism, they decided to use their complementary skills to create a tool that could help readers be better judges of the quality of information they were receiving. They called their new artificial intelligence-driven digital toolbox The Newsroom.

“What we have built, and keep building every day, is an explainable A.I. technology that basically assesses the trustworthiness of an article and then provides the reader with a transparent assessment of what they’re reading,” Jenny says.

Finding trustworthy news in the internet haystack

The first iteration of the system is a free browser extension. As the reader opens an article, be it through a social media site like Facebook, a traditional newspaper online, or a political blog, the browser extension examines the article and renders judgment with a grade for trustworthiness. The Newsroom logo appears in green for trustworthy, yellow for medium trustworthy or red for misleading or inaccurate contents. If you click on the logo, you’ll get a detailed report card that explains how the assessment was reached.

“One of the elements that we realised was very important is this element of transparency,” Pedro says. “Another is plurality of sources, so in that assessment readers also get a list of suggested sources for further reading.”

The browser extension algorithm analyses an article by using five pillars: the sources, the author, the number of references and their quality, the key claims of the article, and whether the information is positioned responsibly.

“Right now, we use assessments from independent NGO companies that assess trustworthiness of news sources,” Pedro says. “Over time, we will be using our own insights to complements those.”

Another aspect of this browser extension is to collect data on how information —accurate or misleading — travels across the internet, and to share that with publishers and content providers in an effort to foster a healthier media landscape.

The Newsroom was a finalist in the 2021 Social Innovation Tournament. This contest was created by the EIB Institute to support entrepreneurs who are helping the environment and society. The Lisbon-based company, which began in December of 2020, has won several other fellowships and prizes.

A deep dive into current events

The company plans to introduce a subscription-model Trusted News app this year, with the exact cost yet to be determined.

“The idea is basically bridging the gap between trustworthiness and the new ways people consume news,” Jenny says. The new app will provide “an analysis of current topics and contexts and have a snapshot of current affairs. And then if people want to, they can deep dive — looking at historical context, what are the events that led to the news they are reading today, but also the current context. And what are the differences between different publishers on this specific topic? And more specifically, more and more importantly, what is common ground?”

Pedro and Jenny say that their experiences working for big tech companies played a role in their desire to find ways to foster a healthier media environment. At the same time, they both believe in the power of technology to do good.

>@The Newsroom
© The Newsroom

Pedro Henriques and Jenny Romano, founders of The Newsroom

“I think having the technology background gave us a lot of understanding around how technology is disrupting the world in good and not so good ways,” Jenny says.

“Transparency and accountability are key values that need to be fostered in the digital media world, including at The Newsroom,” Pedro says. “This is where transparency is key,” he adds.

If The Newsroom algorithm develops a bias of some sort, “we can see when that happens, and users can see when that happens. And so that in this way, we are held accountable.”