In a world where the most famous dorm-room-born internet company has developed a reputation as a matrix of fake users and misleading posts, Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte are hoping that the answer to online disinformation could come out of their own college apartment.
Bhat and Phadte, both 21, are the founders of Robhat Labs, which they launched while previously students at the UC Berkeley. Last year, they debuted two misinformation-fighting projects. The first is NewsBot, an app for Facebook Messenger that aims to identify the political leaning of a given news piece. The second is Botcheck.me, a Chrome extension that uses machine learning and natural language processing to rate whether Twitter accounts are likely to be fabricated bots. In less than a year, Botcheck.me has flagged nearly 1 million accounts as probable bots.
The duo’s third project, set to be released next month, is a free browser extension called SurfSafe. As Bhat explained on Thursday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, SurfSafe uses the images on a news article as a “signature” to find similar pages from around the web. It then uses textual analysis to comment on how the article compares to other coverage, and based on that, whether it might be trustworthy. SurfSafe will also help users to identify whether an image was pirated from another site and flag visuals that have been photoshopped.