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‘New Knowledge’ disrupting disinformation

Published : Saturday, 1 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 602
Tech Desk

The now four-year-old Austin, Tex.-based startup that fights online disinformation for corporate customers with a team of 40, called New Knowledge, just sealed up $11 million in new funding led by the cross-border venture firm GGV Capital, with participation from Lux Capital. GGV had also participated in the company's $1.9 million seed round.
Through a conversation with the co-founder and CEO Jonathon Morgan and the company's director of research, Renee Di Resta, we learn more them.
Q: How do companies typically get caught up in these similar practices?
JM: It's pretty typical for consumer-facing brands, because they are so high-profile, to get involved in quasi-political conversations, whether or not they like it. Communities that know how to game the system will come after them over a pro-immigration stance for example. They mobilize and use the same black market social media content providers, the same tools and tactics that are used by Russia and Iran and other bad actors.
Q: In other words, this is about ideology, not financial gain.
JM: Where we see this more for financial gain is when it involves state intelligence agencies trying to undermine companies where they have nationalized an industry that competes with U.S. institutions like oil and gas and agriculture companies. You can see this is the promotion of anti-GMO narratives, for example. Agricultural tech in the U.S. is a big business, and on the fringes, there's some debate about whether GMOs are safe to eat, even though the scientific community is clear that they're completely safe.
Q: So you're selling software-as-a-service that does what exactly?
JM: We have a SaaS product and a team of analysts who come out of the intelligence community and who help customers understand threats to their brand. It's an AI-driven system that detects subtle social signs of manipulation across accounts. We then help the companies understand who is targeting them, why, and what they can do about it.
Q: How can you work with them when they can't even decide on their own policies?
JM: First, different platforms are used for different reasons. You see peer-to-peer disinformation, where a small group of accounts drives a malicious narrative on Facebook, which can be problematic at the very local level. Twitter is the platform where media gets its pulse on what's happening, so attacks launched on Twitter are much more likely to be made into mainstream opinion. There are also a lot of disinformation campaigns on Reddit, but those conversations are less likely to be elevated into a topic on CNN, even while they can shape the opinions of large numbers of avid users. Then there are the off-brand platforms like 4chan, where a lot of these campaigns are born. They are all susceptible in different ways.
The platforms have been very receptive. They take these campaigns much more seriously than when they first began looking at election integrity. But platforms are increasingly evolving from more open to more closed spaces, whether it's WhatsApp groups or private Discord channels or private Facebook channels, and that's making it harder for the platforms to observe. It's also making it harder for outsiders who are interested in how these campaigns evolve.

Source: Techcrunch, Connie Loizos



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