A libel-detection system could help news outlets and social media companies stay out of legal hot water.

What’s new: CaliberAI, an Irish startup, scans text for statements that could be considered defamatory, Wired reported. You can try it here.
How it works: The system uses custom models to assess whether assertions that a person or group did something illegal, immoral, or otherwise taboo meet the legal definition of defamation.

  • The company’s cofounder created a list of potentially defamatory statements such as accusations of murder, adultery, or drunkenness. A team of linguists expanded the list into a larger training dataset.
  • A model based on BERT learned to score input sentences from 0 to 100. Statements that score 60 or higher are sent to human reviewers to determine, for instance, whether the accusation is true. (A statement is not defamatory if it can be shown to be true.)
  • A separate BERT model singles out sentences that make what the company calls harmful statements that denigrate particular groups.

Behind the news: News organizations are finding diverse uses for natural  language processing.

  • Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper uses a model to fill its homepage with stories likely to convert casual readers into subscribers.
  • Los Angeles, California, radio station KPCC is developing a system to sort listener questions about Covid-19 by topic.
  • The nonprofit Knight Foundation granted $3 million to develop automated tools for journalists. Recipients include Associated Press, Columbia University, New York City Media Lab, and Partnership on AI.

Why it matters: A defamation warning system could help news organizations avoid expensive, time-consuming lawsuits. That’s especially important in Europe and other places where such suits are easier to file than in the U.S. Social media networks may soon need similar tools. Proposed rules in the EU and UK would hold such companies legally accountable for defamatory or harmful material published on their platforms. U.S. lawmakers are eyeing similar legislation.

We’re thinking: Defamation detection may be a double-edged sword. While it has clear benefits, it could also have a chilling effect on journalists, bloggers, and other writers by making them wary of writing anything critical of anyone.

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