Business Media & Marketing

Monday 19 November 2018

Storyful moves to protect brands from fringe threat

Social media firm focusing on latest dangers in fake news age, writes Michael Cogley

Sharb Farjami, Storyful’s chief executive, said research showed how pervasive and immediate the threat of disinformation was to news and business
Sharb Farjami, Storyful’s chief executive, said research showed how pervasive and immediate the threat of disinformation was to news and business

Social media intelligence agency Storyful has switched its emphasis to protecting brands from threats forming on 'fringe networks' such as 4Chan and Discord.

The company, which was founded by Mark Little in 2010, initially started off life as a video and social media verification service predominantly serving news organisations. Since then the effects of claims about companies made in sections of the internet have become much more serious. Almost a third of Irish people have lost trust in a brand due to something they read on social media, according to research commissioned by Storyful. The survey of more than 1,000 respondents also found that 44pc said they had difficulty knowing which sources to trust.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Storyful's chief product officer Eamonn Kennedy said that there has been a "shift in society" where more importance is placed on fringe networks.

"A big part of what we do is helping companies and brands understand that these things can be impactful. A lot of it is that ability to see what's going on in the fringe networks and at least give companies a heads up in terms of what they need to be worried about," he said.

"We're not in the business of stopping narratives, we are in the business of alerting a brand to potential crises that we're seeing bubble up and that we believe will become part of a wider narrative."

Kennedy said that even the largest brands in the world face threats from threads that appear on the less-travelled parts of the web. He gave the example of New Balance, which recently attracted the favour of white nationalists, who identified it as the anti-Nike. Nike's latest advertising campaign, in which it adopted former NFL star Colin Kaepernick as its lead athlete, attracted a lot of hate and vitriol with videos emerging of people burning their Nike products.

Kaepernick, previously of the San Francisco 49ers, kneeled during the US national anthem two years ago in protest against racial injustice and police brutality. Kennedy said that the fallout effect on New Balance was something that they could have alerted the business to ahead of time.

"I was talking to a large corporate recently where they went through a crisis," he said. "A narrative that had been bubbling under did eventually break into the press and they were saying they would have paid a king's ransom for even an hour's notice before it broke into the mainstream media."

Kennedy said his "watershed moment" on the threat of disinformation came during the French election, where Emmanuel Macron was subjected to a Twitter "raid". Twitter was bombarded with a range of pro-Marine Le Pen and anti-Emmanuel Macron memes, which seemed spontaneously conducted by a group of users. It later transpired that the raid had been announced on the site by an account, which had been co-ordinated in a closed server on Discord.

The Storyful product chief also said that there was a "real threat" to both brands and society as a result of the influence sites such as 4Chan, Gab, and Endchan, have garnered in recent years.

More than a third of Irish people said they had friends who frequently share fake news on social media, according to the company's research. Consequently, a fifth have gone on to share a story that they later discovered was false. Around 56pc said they had more trust in traditional news sources, such as radio, TV, and print, than online. Similarly, around 43pc had lost trust in online news.

Sharb Farjami, Storyful's chief executive, said that the research results underscored how pervasive and immediate the threat of disinformation was to news and business,

"The dangers of disinformation are widely known and this research offers a unique perspective on the effects in the Irish market. News organizations and businesses everywhere need to scrutinize their social media literacy if they want to be appropriately prepared to handle this challenge," he said. "It was encouraging to see that, in Ireland, 58pc of the respondents said they use additional sources to fact-check claims they read on social media."

The research backs up the thesis for Storyful's dramatic change since it was sold to News Corp five years ago for €18m. The company now tracks both breaking news stories and social conversations to determine the main sources of misinformation and disinformation.

Little, its founder, went on to form another news-based app known as Kinzen, formerly Neva Labs. Ultimately, its aim is to sift out junk and promote expert-led news and information in a personalised feed. The service will be structured in a way to allow for a feed, backed by artificial intelligence and algorithms, that will be based on a user's preferences and what experts are interested in.

Both the former RTE journalist and Storyful, once joined at the hip, have identified the need for correct information, but have both taken different paths to tackling it.

Sunday Indo Business

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