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Monday, June 27, 2022

UF students create app to combat misinformation

String News offers users a fresh way to consume news

Graphic by Alex Brown
Graphic by Alex Brown

Attending conference calls with investors in the car, filing patents and staying up until dawn to discuss app updates — all in a day’s work. 

Seeking to counter the spread of misinformation on social media, a group of nine UF students developed an app called String News. The founding team envisioned the app as a platform for users to view free, reliable news stories without distractions, such as misleading infographics and memes easily found on social media.

“We're trying to target people that care about journalism, love to read the news and love to stay informed,” String News COO Israel Lopez-Morillo said. “But we also want to target the people that love to spend time on social media.” 

Strings News aims to streamline news consumption with over 14,000 news sources and fewer user-made posts.

The app launched on mobile app stores March 19 and has gained 816 total users on the app, as of June 4. 

After witnessing vast amounts of misinformation about COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election flooding social media, the String News team — Christian Ancheta, Israel Lopez-Morillo, Jeremy Cheng, Justin Schwartz, Sarwaan Ansari, Gianni Cerri, Micah Sheerin, Anthony Nasnas, and Zac Epperson — wanted to make a platform that could serve as a solution to the issue.

“I think a lot of people in tech are approaching (the misinformation issue) from a very high level, like they're trying to create these super complicated machine-learning algorithms to detect misinformation,” String News CEO Christian Ancheta said. “But we think this is quite like a pretty low-tech solution [by] literally just increasing the visibility of credible sources producing this information.”

When the app’s first line of code was written last November, the team aimed to create a better platform for users to access and share the news with friends. Now, the String team’s objective has shifted to get more people to access news by appealing to a wide readership.

By providing a universal newsfeed for users on top of a personalized “for you” page, the String News team hopes to decrease the presence of social media echo chambers — an online environment where users’ opinions are reinforced through repeated interactions with people who share similar attitudes. 

“We want our users to have a more holistic experience [than] when they do on other news apps,” Ancheta said. “A person who wouldn't normally read news might be attracted because we have Thrasher magazine as a source or something. Then, maybe as a byproduct, they're following The New York Times. And now, The New York Times has a reader that they didn't initially have.”

Throughout Ancheta’s time as an undergraduate, he’s been on a mission to create a better way to inform the public.

In 2019, Ancheta created Quantum Analytics — a company designed to make financial information from the news more accessible for everyday investors. A year later, the idea behind Quantum Analytics shifted to a new platform: String Finance. With the help of String News CFO Jeremy Cheng, Lopez-Morillo was recruited to join the team to work on String Finance — which ultimately expanded into the current String News app. 

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Before becoming business partners, Ancheta and Lopez-Morillo were roommates during their freshman year at UF  — making their home at the Innovation Academy Living Learning Community (LLC) in Beaty Towers. With a common goal to make meaningful change, Ancheta and Lopez-Morillo’s friendship grew as they became part of the String News founding team last year.

“I don't really live the life of a typical college student anymore. But I mean, if that's what's necessary in order to make String the next big thing, then I'm all for it.” Lopez-Morillo said. 

The Innovation Academy — a program meant to equip students with entrepreneurial mastery — has been an instrumental resource at UF that has provided Ancheta and Lopez-Morillo with the valuable business skills they use in the daily operations of String News. 

Innovation Academy director Jeff Citty, Ed.D., has served as a mentor to the pair and a loyal supporter of String News — using the app on a weekly basis since its launch.

“I think they’re 100% bought into what they’re doing and they’re putting in a lot of energy into this, which is a key for success for them,” Citty said.

After launching the app, the String team has shifted their focus to marketing on forum websites like Reddit and garnering investments from venture capitalists from Miami, Tampa, and Orlando.

“We have an actual vision that we want to see carry through, so finding investors who truly understand the problem and believe in the vision is really important for us,” Ancheta said. 

Not only does String News plan to expand its audience and investors, but it is also planning to continuously improve user experience. Features such as direct messages and audio from news podcasts or radio segments are just a few of the ways the team plans to diversify their business.

Contact Makiya Seminera at Follow her on Twitter @makseminera.

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