Fighting the Fake News Epidemic — Truth-As-A-Service

… I borrowed this title from Noam Chomsky’s book. ‘Manufacturing Consent’ published 2 decades ago, an insightful critique of history, politics and media. Trust me. You will slog through it even as you read the first paragraph. The gist of the book is “Who rules the world”. The author writes his views on how media is bent on fabricating news to manufacture consent among the populace to further their corporate agenda.

Inthe ancient days, the kings and priests worked hand in glove to rule the masses with a imperial high hand. They slaved millions to work on their castles and pyramids with FEAR as their whips. Their knowledge of astronomy made them predict when the next eclipses would occur. With such foresight, they dramatized the events making illiterate masses to bend their knees, begging them to show them their Gods and protect the world from eternal darkness. Who is controlling your thoughts today? Who and why are people protesting against? Who are you fighting against? How are powerful, private influence groups working in tandem? How fast is the news spread?

We digg fake news, as if we didn’t already know. Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social circles, and spread much faster than accurate stories. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth. Can AI help sort fake news? A new startup called NewsGuard seeks to apply a “nutrition label” to news sites alerting readers of the quality of the outlet. Could this be the fix for “fake news”? Whilst, there is another using AI. Another claiming it will use blockchain to fix the fake news problem.

Can we let our software dictate what we want to hear? People rely on non-biased reporting from journalists. If it’s not tainted local news coloring people’s opinions, it’s social networks that serve the exact kind of news it thinks people want to see. It seems pretty obvious that today news has gone too far down the rabbit hole to ever be considered viable. Whom to trust — #1 problem.

Machines are good at analyzing vast amounts of data quickly and unemotionally, but humans are better at editorial decisions like fact-checking, narrative-building and general common sense.

The stocks of a leading airline just fell flat 6% simply because a famous celebrity foul mouthed a tweet against them. It’s a good use case where brands protect their public identities against disinformation. Next big rip-off comes from new GenXY community who simply want to boost their channel's ratings. And, this is so sickening. Let’s talk why. Here’s one story to the account to the point where I want to get.

In 1938, Orson Welles became famous for his radio adaptation of The War of the World’s and the mass hysteria it supposedly caused. While the hysteria was greatly exaggerated, the myth of the hysteria has proved pervasive and influential. Newspapers sell a lot of issues by playing up the sensationalism of their story. If it sounds like modern “clickbait”, it should. Many movie buffs today will claim — or we all believe there was a mass panic during the October 30, 1938. The original broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938 wasn’t actually as scary as anyone thought. The newspaper coverage the next day had all the chills and thrills that anyone could possibly have imagined. Which was not really true. Instead, the newspapers were paid, and they latched onto the sensational aspects and magnified them out of proportion, with each newspaper account adding more “details” to the one before, until the original incident became buried in an avalanche of sensationalized but fake news. In 1938 the internet hadn’t been invented yet, and TV was in its infancy. And, news choices were the newspaper, the radio, or the rumor mill. But even more telling was what people believed. In 1938, newspapers were tried and true, and radio was the new kid on the block. While that seems old fashioned now, it seems new again. Radio was new, it was immediate, it was available everywhere, and the drastic change in the way that people consumed media frightened people. And, 80 years from now. Here we are — The Youtubers.

All major news organisation are heavily dependent on advertisement revenue, and advertisers find new ways to promote their products. A never-ending newsfeed of bullshit bingo thoughtlessly parroted by freshly minted experts on topics that trend. And, advertisers find a good spot each time. In 2017, coin and crypto were the most sought after SEO keywords. Even as many companies could barely secure their passwords, there were 1000s of content per day being generated about coin and crypto, when the technologies were at an infancy. Many industries wanted a piece of that action, and the hype they created virtually landed BTC off the charts. (Good its now crashed)

Lots of players are trying to stop the fake news epidemic. @Google announced a $300M news initiative. Startup accelerator @mattervc launched a boot camp for journalists. And several startups (@factmata @nwzer) are using tech to fact-check & more. Meanwhile, there are many startups using fake data to train AI, show traction, build networks. Fake it ’til you make it has long been a motto of startups trying to survive in markets stalked by larger competitors. In other cases, the stakes are too high to risk creating a system with any disconnect from reality.

Faking what you haven’t earned is one of the most unethical and immoral practices known to man.

Fundraising for startups is a catch-22. You need funding to get results and, at the same time, you need results to get the money. Bloomberg reported sometime ago, that venture-funded mayonnaise brand went to extraordinary and unethical lengths to demonstrate growth to its investors and buyers, including buying up its own product off the shelves of product retailers. People in business know creating momentum often requires creating the perception of momentum first. Doing so is all well and good, right up to the point where it’s not. Greed was always omnipresent. What worries me is that it has permeated places that I thought unassailable!

The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do. — Lou Mannheim in the Hollywood classic ‘Wall Street’

It doesn’t take long though to see the data is faked. Due diligence is such a wonderful thing for finding the wolves in sheep’s clothing or rather finding out whether you are getting a live sheep or just a picture of a live sheep. So short answer: You can fake data, you can’t get away with it.

Let’s roll to this week’s top Indian startup funding disclosures. TheFridayEveningReport is a weekly newsletter on startup happenings, Who’s who mailer on venture funding. If you are a startup, and have secured a funding, we have a spot for you every weekend. So, startup’ers — do share us your press releases. Personally, I want to thank all who have subscribed for this newsletter. I greatly appreciate it. I would be really happy if the reader would care to leave me a note what you might like to enjoy reading the next week. If you know of a friend or someone in your circle who’d like to get started-up, do spread the good word! Let’s roll to the top stories of this week.

  • Delhi based POPxo, Women Focussed Digital Media Platform in Tech has bagged a Private Equity Deal for INR 36.7 crores from Neoplux, OPPO, IDG Ventures India, Kalaari Capital, GREE Ventures and Summit Media.
  • Another Delhi based Online Travel MarketPlace called Trip shelf, has bagged a Seed/Angel funding of INR 1.64 Crores from Investors like GEMS Advisory, Alok Mittal and Sachin Bhatia.
  • Bengaluru based Online Lending Platform called Capital Float has bagged a PE deal of 146 crores from Amazon.
  • Mumbai based Finance Startup called Mihuru has raised a Seed/Angel funding of INR 1 crore as Seed / Angel funding.
  • Mumbai based Consumer Internet — Beauty E-Tailer “Nykaa” has bagged a PE deal of approx INR 73.4 crores from Investors like Sunil Munjal, Harsh Mariwala, Dalip Pathak and Others.
  • Mumbai based Healthcare startup “ Doxper” which focuses on Digitized Health-Tech Solutions For Practitioners has raised a Seed funding of INR 12.67 Crores.
  • Delhi based AI Driven Health tech Platform called Visit, has raised a PE deal from Investors like Biz Stone, Kunal Bahl, Rohit Bansal, Alagu Periyannan and Karthee Madasamy.
  • Gurugram based Tech Startup — True Balance has raised a PE deal of $23Mn (INR 153 Crores). This is a Mobile Balance Checking App. Investors — Line Ventures Corporation, Line Corp, Naver, Shinhan Bank and TS Investment.
  • Bengaluru based Fyle Technologies works on AI Based Expense Management Platform. It has secured a Seed/Angel Funding of 7.3 Crores from Pravega Ventures and Beenext.
  • Guess who invested in “Online Baby care Products”? Shilpa Shetty Kundra funded a Gurugram based startup called mamaearth in a PE deal.
  • Online Eyewear Retailer Lenskart based in Faridabad, has raised a PE Equity from TR Capital.
  • Mumbai based Online Insurance Aggregator Coverfox has raised a Private Equity for $22Mn from Investors like International Finance Corporation, Transamerica and others.
  • Bengaluru based Pregbuddy — Connected Care App For Pregnant Women has raised a Seed/Angel funding from Investors like Rajan Anandan, Madhusudhan Kannan, Jayant Kadambi, Puneet Gupta and Pradeep K Jaisingh.

Great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress

Burning Unicorn — A silent protest to the VC model. Yes, Startups Actually Hate VC Money. Here’s a blog that explains why.

Entrepreneurship is such an incredible canvas for actualizing a teams talents, creativity, and values in the real world. Venture Investing is a big gamble. Making big bets on people, ideas, and markets that might never work out. As a startup’er, it’s time to deploy new sources of capital for startup entrepreneurs to help them solve their customer problems and avoid venture capital’s massive failure rate. Companies can create movements that re imagine cities, reshape culture and re frame what is possible. Most companies are distracted from fundamental value creation. Their focus is more on competitors, which company is getting funded by whom. And, they forget they have a product to focus their energies. Yet, we continue to ask founders to twist and contort their stories, and their visions, to fit themselves nicely into a unicorn shaped box. Break the rules.

I wanted to understand, at least, if it’s a bad idea, why is it a bad idea? If it’s impossible, why is it impossible? — Author, The Lean Startup

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