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New browser extension aims to fight misinformation in online videos

In today's digital age, where information spreads rapidly across various platforms, the task of separating fact from fiction has become increasingly challenging, especially when it comes to online videos. While YouTube has established itself as a popular destination for seeking knowledge and entertainment, the credibility of the content shared on the platform remains a significant concern.



Researchers at the University of Washington have taken a proactive step towards addressing this issue by developing Viblio, a groundbreaking browser extension designed to enhance the credibility of YouTube videos. This innovative tool empowers viewers and creators to add Wikipedia-like citations to videos, providing a layer of transparency and accountability to the information presented.

Viblio's unique approach offers users an alternate timeline, visually marked with notes and links to credible sources that either support, refute, or expand upon the claims made in the video. These citations are displayed in a format akin to the "References" section found at the end of Wikipedia articles, allowing viewers to easily navigate and assess the reliability of the information.

In a recent study conducted by the research team, 12 participants tested Viblio's capabilities across a diverse range of topics, including biology, political news, and even COVID-19 vaccines. The results were promising, with participants finding the tool highly useful in gauging the credibility of the videos they watched.

"We wanted to come up with a method to encourage people watching videos to do what's called 'lateral reading,' which is that you go look at other places on the web to establish whether something is credible or true, as opposed to diving deep into the thing itself," explained Amy X. Zhang, an assistant professor at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the senior author of the study.

The development of Viblio was informed by a thorough investigation into how users currently evaluate the credibility of YouTube videos. The researchers found that factors such as familiarity with the video's source, channel name, video quality, search rankings, and viewer engagement metrics played a significant role in shaping perceptions of credibility.

However, the study also revealed potential pitfalls, such as users misinterpreting supplemental information panels provided by YouTube as endorsements from authoritative sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"The trouble is that a lot of YouTube videos, especially more educational ones, don't offer a great way for people to prove they're presenting good information," said Emelia Hughes, a doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame who worked on the project as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington's Information School.

To address this issue, Viblio allows users to add citations by clicking a button on the extension. They can then provide a link, select the relevant timespan for the citation, and optionally add comments. Additionally, users can categorize their citations as "refutes the video clip's claim" (red), "supports the video clip's claim" (green), or "provides further explanation" (blue dot), making it easier to identify the context and intent of each citation.

While the initial testing phase yielded positive results, the researchers acknowledge the potential challenges that may arise as Viblio scales up. Tanu Mitra, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's Information School, raised concerns about potential conflicts arising from users with differing value systems adding conflicting citations, particularly on highly political or controversial topics.

"What happens when people with different value systems add conflicting citations?" Mitra questioned. "We, of course, have the issue with bad actors potentially adding misinformation and incorrect citations, but even when the users are acting in good faith but have conflicting options, whose citation should be prioritized? Or should we be showing both conflicting citations? These are big challenges at scale."

Despite these challenges, the researchers remain optimistic about Viblio's potential to combat misinformation on video platforms. They plan to explore further studies, including expanding the tool to other platforms like TikTok or Instagram, studying its usability at a larger scale, and exploring ways to encourage citation contributions for less-trafficked videos.

As Zhang emphasized, "Once we get past this initial question of how to add citations to videos, then the community vetting question remains very challenging. It can work. At X, Community Notes is working on ways to prevent people from 'gaming' voting by looking at whether someone always takes the same political side. And Wikipedia has standards for what should be considered a good citation. So it's possible. It just takes resources."

In an era where misinformation can spread like wildfire across digital platforms, initiatives like Viblio offer a glimmer of hope for a more transparent and accountable online ecosystem. By empowering users to fact-check and validate the information they consume, tools like these have the potential to reshape the way we interact with and perceive online content, fostering a more informed and discerning digital community.

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