Researchers Build Search Engine for Discovering and Debunking Fake News

Language and the Machine


Hoaxy is a new search engine designed to help reporters, researchers and the general public find information on the spread of unverified news stories.

All sessions from #SMWONE, our four-week virtual conference program, are now available on-demand.

Researchers at Indiana University have developed a search engine designed to explore the means in which fake news is spread. The engine, appropriately named Hoaxy, is a joint project between the University and the Center of Complex Networks and Systems Research.

Using web crawlers – bots designed to automatically scroll through and identify specific types of web content – Hoaxy finds fake news articles that line up with links that appear on independent, third-party fact-checker sites like and An API then scans the path these links take through social networks.

Indiana University researchers are collecting the data, which will ultimately feed into a visualized dashboard. While Hoaxy is not built to definitively determine which content is verified versus “fake,” it does present related articles and content to provide more context and information.

This utility could be helpful to reporters and researchers who want to see where a story came from, how it was spread and if any contradictory perspectives exist on the web that might serve to debunk its content.

For example, one particular fake news site – designed to look like ABC News – shared a story about President Obama signing an executive order to ban the pledge of allegiance in schools. By entering the URL into Hoaxy, you will see the content debunked by two third-party sites (in orange). Below that, purple rows show the top spreaders of the news.

The same researches behind Hoaxy have been studying fake news for more than a decade, and a prior experience found that nearly three-fourths of people placed blind faith in content shared by their friends – even to the degree of sharing personal information on phishing sites shared within their close networks.

What’s more, they learned – even ten years ago – that fake news can drive ad revenue. In a test, the researchers placed ads on a fake news site that contained a disclaimer stating that the content above was completely false and meaningless. Despite this message, the team received continual earnings from the ads.

Learn the latest trends, insights and best practices from the brightest minds in media and technology. Sign up for SMW Insider to watch full-length sessions from official Social Media Week conferences live and on-demand.

Newsletter Subscription

Get the latest insights, trends and best practices from today's leading industry voices.

Learn More

Write for Us

Interested in sharing your ideas and insights with the world? Become a SMW News contributor and reach 300k readers each month.

Apply Here