Sto­ry­ful moves to pro­tect brands from fringe threat

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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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

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