The Companies Tackling Fake News and Misinformation

Reporters with various forms of “fake news” from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper

Fake news poses an existential threat to the global news industry. It also risks damaging the fabric of societies, communities and relationships everywhere.

If you’re in any doubt as to the prevalence of fake news and the risk it poses, it’s worth noting that 64% of US adults say that “made-up news” has caused a “great deal of confusion” about the facts of current events. Major social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter are under intense political and social pressure to demonstrate that they are taking fake news seriously, especially in light of accusations of foreign interference in recent elections in America and Europe.

As a result, these platforms are investing heavily in moderation capabilities, expanding teams and seeking input from external sources. Their end game is to identify hoaxes and misinformation in news stories and social posts. This is, of course, easier said than done.

It’s common knowledge that major platforms are failing to cope with fake news. Some commentators accuse them of apathy. Others acknowledge that the big platforms are struggling to adapt to the rise of online misinformation, because it’s, simply, a very difficult problem to solve. Difficult, but not impossible.

Ananas is just one example of a new breed of startups and established names fighting back against misinformation, fake news and extremism. And we’re doing it with technology.

We want to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on our peers and the valuable work they’re doing. Whether it’s helping large social media platforms to identify and stop misinformation, or empowering brands and governments to protect themselves from becoming targets. Some players are new kids on the block. Others are established cyber-security firms employing tactics developed through previous decades of client work. Indeed, the lexicon of fake news is becoming increasingly technological and esoteric.

Fake News Challenge (FNC) is a grassroots effort that includes 100 volunteers and 71 teams from academia and industry around the world, all dedicated to exploring how AI technologies like machine learning and natural language processing can be leveraged to combat fake news. The idea is to use these technologies to automate parts of the procedure with human fact checkers used to determine if a story is real or a hoax.

The most recent winner of the FNC competition is Talos, a Cisco company that used advanced machine learning and AI inspired by biological processes (including a predictive modelling approach called “decision trees”) to protect organizations people, data and infrastructure from active adversaries. To do this, Talos relies on Cisco’s telemetry of data that spans across networks, end-points, cloud environments, virtual systems, and daily web and email traffic, providing a comprehensive understanding of threats.

Digital Shadows monitors and manages organizations’ digital risk, providing relevant threat intelligence across the widest range of data sources within the internet and dark web. The company has offices in London and San Francisco and has positioned itself as the market leader in protecting companies from risks emanating in the dark web. Like many other companies in this space, this is not a pure technology play — the company employs analysts to help assess threats identified by its systems and help clients to proactively manage these.

The cybersecurity industry is mature enough to support niche operators, including Distil Networks, which specialises in protecting clients and their websites against bots. It describes itself as “the global leader in bot detection and mitigation”, which means that it protects clients from automated attacks, including those perpetrated by Advanced Persistent Bots which cause security breaches, application denial of service, spam, and transaction frauds.

But Ananas’ peer group extends beyond the realm of cyber-security to include companies that help clients manage reputational risk as well as systems risk.

Crisp describes itself as “the global expert at keeping brands safe online”. It helps social media platforms and publishers to protect their reputations online by using an algorithm to scan the internet and establish where their content is being distributed. The company was founded over a decade ago to help companies manage reputational risk during the explosion of user-generated content. In recent times, it has began working directly with social media platforms to help them deal with hate speech, racism, and terrorism-related content.

New Knowledge is another startup that helps brands to defend their online reputations by identifying fake social accounts, fake news and propaganda campaigns. The company says it’s on a mission to defend public discourse by building products that repair online communities, defend them against manipulation and help them communicate more authentically. New Knowledge works with private companies, but it also works with political campaigns and social justice organisations to understand how online communities can be manipulated and help to prevent this from happening. If organisations can spot misinformation early enough, they can take action to neutralize it by removing it from publication or countering its claims.

All of these companies are firmly in the B2B space, which makes sense when you consider the huge demand from brands and public sector clients for cyber-security and risk management. This strategy bodes well for society over the long term, when you consider the reach and power of corporations in our lives and trickle-down effect of actions taken in the boardroom.

Axios unlike the aforementioned, is an American news website, founded in 2016 by a bunch of Politico alumni who believe that, “media is broken — and too often a scam”. Their mission is to build a news platform than can deliver vital, trustworthy news and analysis — without the use of banner ads, pop-ups and clickbait titles. This means the site is dependent on native advertising, and its already partnering with a host of high-profile brands such as JP Morgan, Boeing, BP, Bank of America, Walmart and PepsiCo. Axios has secured $10 million in funding from a series of heavyweight backers including NBC News and Greycroft Partners.

Another news site dedicated to countering fake news is WikiTribune, a platform that allows professional journalists to report news stories alongside volunteers who curate articles by proofreading, fact-checking, suggesting changes, and adding sources. Founder Jimmy Wales describes this as, “the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.” It’s an exciting idea. If it delivers on its premise, it could become a vital source of news in the same way that Wikipedia has become an integral source of factual information to millions of people globally.

Ananas also operates in the B2C space, working directly with consumers of content and thereby neutralizing misinformation at the source. This approach presents unique challenges, but huge opportunities, also. Our token, Anacoin, is designed to incentivize entire communities to map their own beliefs and make them accessible to others, thereby promoting understanding and tolerance.

It’s exciting and reassuring to see that so many smart people are focusing on tackling fake news and misinformation, and we’re looking forward to monitoring the progress of our peers in the months and years ahead.