NEW YORK-From so-called zombie rumours - viral online stories that refuse to die - to the difference between misinformation and fake news, much of the talk at TED 2019 has been about the need to improve online conversation.

And this is not just because it would be nice to counter the vast amounts of online lies and propaganda with truthful and respectful debate, something the TED audience always prefers. But because, a series of speakers said, misinformation is having alarming real world consequences - from influencing elections to causing deaths.

Claire Wardle is the founder of First Draft News, a charity that fights misinformation. She recently set up the Coalition to Integrate Values into the Information Commons (Civic). It aims to build new infrastructure for quality information, something she described as a “Wikipedia of trust”.

At TED, she asked “citizens of the internet” - whether everyday users, journalists, educators or software developers - to take part in the project, which will build a depository of the rumours, memes and propaganda circulating online. It will attempt to throw light on where they came from and suggest ways to filter such content in future.

She began her talk with a typical online zombie rumour: a photo of a banana with a red mark on it. The post suggested that the fruit had been injected with the HIV virus.

“Every day we see new memes like this. Rumours that tap into people’s deepest fears and their fears for their families. Lies and facts sit side by side,” she said. It was not good enough for Facebook and Google to have their own fact checkers, or even for governments to regulate the web. Such viral content needed to be gathered, stored and analysed in an open database, she said.