Hacker warriors win the day

What is a hackathon? A hackathon, popular in “hacker” culture, is a 24 hour or 36 hour period where people gather overnight to “hack,” or build a product or other device that follows within a theme.

Traditionally, hackathons are popular among college students, propagated by sleeplessness, soda and unhealthy food. Hackathon by the Sea, hosted by the Ventura County Office of Education from Dec. 1 to 2, was a 21-hour hackathon that invited high schoolers and middle schoolers from all over Ventura County.

This year’s hackathon theme was “Make Tomorrow Better.” With over 200 participants and 50 volunteers, this year’s hackathon, the second hackathon ever hosted by Ventura County Office of Education.

WHS’s students Gideon Tong ‘19, Jane Zhang ‘19 and Annie Wong ‘19 decided to participate this year. Their project was Authentic (authentic.gg), a Chrome extension that alerts the user when they browsed to a website that was most likely propagating fake news, along with the likes of websites hosted by Alex Jones’ Infowars.

Authentic aims to combat false information by sending notifications to users when they on such a site. In addition to this, the extension will then bring up another relevant news source with credible information on the topic.

“A banner would pop up at the top of the screen alerting the user to such an issue, as well as prompting the user with two buttons,” said Tong. “The first button was a link to a news article, along with its headline, that is related to what the user is currently reading except a trustworthy news source like The New York Times or Washington Post. If the user does not like the news article recommended by our extension, they can click a button to view more articles powered by a server we set up.”

The purpose of Authentic is to detect whether websites are trustworthy or not. Based on a database compiled by MediaBiasFactCheck.com, Authentic determines if the website is trustworthy or if the user should be provided with alternative sources that are more reliable.

“There are lots of misinformation spread in our current political climate,” said Tong. “Of course we want to combat that because it’s contributing to political polarization. We don’t need a greater separation, we need people to work together. People working together means stuff in the government gets done instead of just arguing. People need to see the other side.”

The inspiration behind this team’s project was the Borderline shooting that took place in Thousand Oaks on Nov. 7. The idea was to help people get their facts straight so a factual conversation can occur rather than false arguments being thrown all over the place based on false information.

“Thus, we created Authentic to help people stop basing their arguments on false information and come to an agreement on the science and academia behind each controversial issue,” said the Authentic team. “This will help bridge the political polarization in our country and promote product conversation amongst citizens so that we can solidify the past and present for a better tomorrow.”

The idea is to be able to have conversations and have plausible arguments without factually incorrect argumentative comments.

Currently, the extension has a limit of 10 credible alternative websites that users can get to. The Authentic team is currently planning to add about 100 more credible sources in the near future as the extension continues to expand and grow.

“From my experience at Hackathon by The Sea, I know that I want to continue doing more Hackathons because they allow you to utilize your computer science knowledge to help solve a problem,” said Zhang.  “Also for the insider scoop: solving very current problems or issues that you have personally faced show that you know about current events and taking actions to improve on them. This will impress the judges!”

As a result of the Authentic team’s hard effort, they placed first at the hackathon, bringing home a $500 check.

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