UK-based fact-checking startup Factmata has won a $1 million funding round. The company, whose 25-year-old founder Dhruv Ghulati drew headlines last year having successfully blind-pitched Mark Cuban, was given its latest round by Silicon Valley insiders including Twitter’s Biz Stone, Zynga’s Mark Pincus and Craigslist founder Craig Newman.
The money will allow the company to rapidly scale its machine learning platform, as it rushes to prove a data-driven business model that parts with the advertising model Ghulati believes is fueling media’s “hate speech, propaganda, fake news and clickbait” issue.
It “allows us to move from an outfit started in a bedroom to a company with a culture, an office, and a well-functioning team of the best minds possible to crack this problem,” Dhruv told Red Herring. His team will hire “machine learning scientists, journalists, and in-house fact-checkers, as well as prove out product market fit in one vertical, which for now is programmatic advertising technology.”
Factmata, which in 2016 won €50,000 from the Google News Initiative, uses machine learning algorithms to educate advertisers about the content with which their products are associated.
Rather than rely on advertising itself, the firm aims to monetize its data for sale to news analysts. Ghulati believes that traditional media’s ad-revenue model prioritizes views over veracity.
It is no small issue: Terms like “post-fact” and “alternative facts” have dominated news headlines, as politicians and partisans co-opted a fragmented media landscape. Research on spurious online claims often find them to be believed by a majority of readers, while belief in traditional (or “mainstream”) media outlets has plummeted: in June 2017 Statista reported that just 11% of Americans fully trust cable news, while just 14% trusted newspapers.
The Pew Research Center, an analyst, predicted in October that fake news will continue to grow. Factmata joins Wikipedia, whose founder Jimmy Wales last year launched community outlet Wikitribune, and Facebook, whose own attempts to beat online chicanery have been much criticized, in a small clique of tech firms hoping to reverse the fake news phenomenon.
During the last US election people shared almost as much fake news as credible news. That has led to a social media scramble, as platforms like Twitter and Facebook rush to restore faith in their companies’ credibility.
Twitter has itself attempts to dampen fake news across its platform. Asked if Twitter co-founder Stone’s investment indicates that its plans are failing, Ghulati replied, “Leaders in social media are working hard to put the system back on track, but they realize that this cannot be done by themselves alone. I definitely think it’s a very positive sign that the founders of social media platforms are looking outwards to search for solutions and ideas to these very complex challenges.”
This year Factmata will launch an open research initiative, making its data available to other platforms in an attempt at “solving fake news.” Ghulati hopes that his company will help foster a media market that helps platforms make money while keeping readers’ data, time and trust intact.
That he will contend with centuries of debate about what a fact actually is, has not yet been addressed. But Factmata now has the funds to go out and prove whether its mission can truly be realized.