We all know you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. But with Grasswire, you can at least “refute” it.
Austen Allred’s new venture allows news junkies to confirm and refute posts about breaking news. The “real-time newsroom controlled by everyone” divides posts into popular news topics, such as the Malaysia Airlines Crash in Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once you select a topic, you then can upvote posts like Reddit to make them appear at the top of the page. If you see something that is incorrect, you can refute it by posting a source URL to information that disproves it. You can do the same to confirm a report. When you share the post on social media, all of these links are shared with it.
“It started really with just a few news junkies, people who are really sick of being lied to with information being spread around on YouTube and Twitter and all of these platforms that are completely unregulated,” Allred tells me. “There’s nothing to rope them in as far as accuracy goes. The tool was originally built for those people.”
So far, users have refuted posts through reverse Google image searches, Allred said. The website officially launched about a month ago.
As a news junkie myself who has retweeted information that later turned out to be false as more details developed, this product seems to fill an existing hole in the social media landscape. Although Twitter seems to be the place to go to get bursts of information out when a story breaks, you can’t edit Tweets.
From the Boston bombings to the Malaysia airlines crash in Ukraine, we’ve seen false information surface on the social network. Once it’s there and has been retweeted, it’s hard to make it go away. Deleting the tweet doesn’t affect manual retweets, and totally removing it does not allow for transparent correction and clarification.
“Obviously there are some journalists who think turning journalism over to people who aren’t professional journalists is dangerous, but we disagree with those people,” Allred said. “I feel like the ability to refute something is not that incredibly difficult. The real power of journalism is when we have massive amounts of people trying to scrutinize whether or not that is accurate enough.”
As a journalism major, I’m skeptical of a “real-time newsroom controlled by everyone.” As newsroom layoffs continue and papers fold, my professors reassure me that there will still be a place for journalists in the new world of increasingly crowdsourced news. Although these accounts can bring new details to a story, I bought into the idea that there would still be a need for professionals to go out, report and bring accurate information to readers.
Rather than replace that role, I’m hopeful that a platform like Grasswire could one day be a tool to supplement it. Right now the platform has its bugs. Its design feels a bit cumbersome, and currently the team does not have an iOS developer.
But despite these flaws, other attempts to fact check breaking news online have faltered. We still see false reports tweeted by verified accounts all the time, for instance. Something like Grasswire could serve the same role as a correction or a revision posted on an article. By linking to source material that continues to appear every time the post is shared, it is much like an article with an editor’s note that explains why something has been altered or changed.
For journalists trying to balance old-school ethics with new media tools, this option could be crucial. If executed correctly, it could lead to far fewer false reports because thousands of people could be fact checking information, not just a handful in a newsroom.
Grasswire’s success is dependent on its ability to grow an active user base, so that when news does break, readers are there to confirm or refute it. Currently Grasswire has about 1,000 to 2,000 active daily users and has built a Twitter following of over 30,000. Still in its seed-funding round, Grasswire has raised $50,000.