In the past, “checking the news” meant reading trusted newspapers or watching news channels on the television. But these days anyone can post something on the internet or social media and call it news, often spreading unchecked misinformation. As a result, it can be hard to know which news is actually offering reliable information.
Factmata is stepping up with a solution. The company developed a natural language processing engine that gathers posts from social media sites, clusters them into “narratives,” and provides data on the dangerousness and pervasiveness of those narratives. We reached out to CEO and COO Antony Cousins to learn his background in facing misinformation and how investors can help.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
We use artificial intelligence to identify online narratives and highlight the ones with the most potential to cause harm.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
The world is feeling the impact of viral misinformation, disinformation, and harmful content being produced by a few and shared by many. Social cohesion is breaking down. Our democracies are under attack, and it’s a growing problem felt at all levels of our society, from the biggest institutions down to the smallest businesses. Even at the individual level, we’re feeling the impact of this on our loved ones and ourselves.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
As the CEO, I’ve worked in countering harmful narratives since my time in Afghanistan in 2008 and throughout my career in counter-terrorism and Middle East strategy. I’ve seen the very real impacts disinformation and propaganda can have on young and vulnerable minds. However, the origin of the company (founded by Dhruv Ghulati) is rooted in the more recent challenges facing our democratic institutions and the health of the population. Together, we’ve got the experience, the technical knowledge, and passion to make a real difference to this problem.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
We don’t think all the responsibility for solving this problem should sit with the social media platforms. They’ve got a part to play — but so do commercial organizations, governments, regulators, and private citizens. We all need to play our parts in combating disinformation and harmful content, but we need the tools to do it. Humans alone can’t handle the volume, and current technology looking for “keywords” is missing the root cause of the offensive content being created in the first place. We need to evolve into “narrative moderation.”
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Dhruv Ghulati is the founder and chairman of Factmata. He has been studying the problem of disinformation and misinformation since 2016. Some accolades he’s earned are Forbes 30 Under 30 in Technology, CogX “UK AI Rising Star,” Web Summit PITCH finalist, UNESCO Innovator, and Top 100 BAME Leader in Technology.
I have decades of experience in technology and global PR and communications as well as first hand experience in conflict, counter-terrorism and government affairs. I’m the ex-chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations London Chapter and runner of the biggest and longest running PR networking event in the UK. I joined recently to commercialise the technology which Dhruv built.
We came together over a shared passion for solving this problem. We saw that without solving this problem, without being able to come together as a society around a shared understanding of the facts, we would not be able to solve any other problem.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
There’s a small number of companies that are working on narrative monitoring, and a different part of the market is looking at identifying harmful content online. We’re the only company with both technologies, and you need both to be able to truly combat the problem. Without being able to identify the harmful content, you can’t identify the narratives, and without identifying narratives, you can’t identify the cause of the harmful content.
What does your business model look like?
We’re bringing our products to market in three ways. Firstly, our Narrative Monitoring product will be available via self-service signup on the website and targeted at PR agencies, social media agencies, and brands to help them identify harmful narratives which might impact their brand values and revenue. Secondly, we’re entering into partnerships with contextual marketplaces to make our content-scoring API available to brands trying to avoid accidentally funding unsafe content through their programmatic advertising purchases. Lastly, we’re making our content-scoring API available to moderation teams and companies to identify harmful content shared on social media and other platforms.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
We wanted to engage a broader range of people in our business to ensure we’re held accountable by a diverse community, which is more representative of the internet itself. It also helps us tell our story and get feedback on our approach from the crowd of investees. The aim of the funding is to help us promote our products and win new clients as well as to further develop our technology.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
Our technology is world-class, and our people are personally passionate and dedicated. We know this is a problem that businesses need to solve, as well as governments, so we just need to get our products out there to capitalise on the demand and radically grow the company.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
This problem is far from solved. As the internet is constantly changing and bringing new challenges, this is creating an exciting market for partnerships, acquisitions, and joint ventures on new and interesting problems. At the moment, our plan is to reach $1 million in annual recurring revenue, and we have plans to scale that to more than $10 million within three years.
We are excited to see where Antony and his team take the company. Factmata is currently raising on Wefunder.