2 CNN & 2 Kinzen people on Irish disinformation board
Sometimes you have to laugh or else you’d cry. Disinformation and Misinformation are words laced with new age menace. Dublin City University has been chosen by the European Commission to be part of the first ever network of hubs established by the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) to fight disinformation. The DCU Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) will coordinate the Ireland Hub while working with The Journal, NewsWhip, and University of Sheffield. Unbelievably, the external advisory board of FuJo has two CNN employees and the CEO and COO of Kinzen amongst its number. Mark Little and Aine Kerr.
Who or what are Kinzen?
Well, Kinzen is basically a 4-5 year-old tech start up. Currently they’re in the business of protecting people and companies from the spread of misinformation/ disinformation on their platforms. I believe Spotify are one of Kinzen’s current or recent clients. Podcast content moderation is a hot topic at the moment as Joe Rogan found to his cost recently. Kinzen claim to be experts in this type of moderation. But, rather than relying on my opinion about who they are, and thus stand accused of propagating misinformation myself, let’s just allow Kinzen to tell us who they are, courtesy of their website.
“ We provide data and research to trust and safety professionals, content moderators and public policy makers, helping them get ahead - and stay ahead - of threats such as dangerous misinformation, organized disinformation and hateful content.
We use a blend of human expertise and machine learning to provide early-warning of the spread of harmful content in multiple languages. Our team has developed unique technology which helps editors review large volumes of content in multiple formats, including text, video, audio and images. We have developed a particular expertise in the moderation of podcasts”
Rest easy Joe Rogan. Or not. Like his previous start-up Storyful, Mark Little has again spotted a niche in the social media market. I don’t necessarily have a problem with any of the above as long as I can choose to ignore the fruits of Kinzen’s labor. But the point is I don’t get to choose or even know about it. Believe it or not, I don’t want to become a target of any companies algorithms or blend of human expertise particularly if these companies are employed by entities unknown. Go figure.
The people and institutions shouting the most about misinformation are often the very ones, I believe, guilty of propagating and amplifying the most heinous kinds of it. Namely, mainstream media and social media platforms. These guilty parties are the ones now seeking to hand out the misinformation custodial sentences. For example, I would like to see machine learning applied to the last 3 years of Irish media reporting. I’d also like to see all media related algorithms open source. Is the DCU Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society likely to concern itself with any of this?
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The reason for my misgivings is due to the composition of its advisory board and we will come to that full list shortly. But first, let’s shift gears and talk about Ireland’s biggest online newspaper The Journal and key participant in EDMO Ireland and also represented on the FuJo advisory board. You may have noticed that over the last number of years The Journal has jumped head first into a similiar, related business to Kinzen. The fact-checking business. The Journal have increased the amount of content they now produce on this subject under the grandly titled “ Good Information Project “ and a sample of some their recent headlines on that subject are below. I would ask you all to peruse the photograph for a second.
As you can see, much of the content is not related to the actual production of good information but instead explaining to the reader what they believe misinformation and disinformation is and how to spot it. They don’t inform you of how to spot it in their own publications though. The Journal spends an increasing amount of time debunking other peoples content and narratives now. Hmmmm….we are getting very close to what companies providing disinformation expertise do. Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, a lot of The Journal’s “fact-finding” articles are click-bait nonsense. See Below.
Did the Irish people really require the misuse of celebrity photos to be debunked? What The Journal and other news providers in Ireland spend almost zero time explaining to the Irish reader is that most news is narrative driven. The war in Ukraine is a case in point. There is a Ukrainian narrative and a Russian narrative. There may well be other bigger narratives at play we don’t even know about. Most average people would like to know the nuanced truth of each and every situation, the overall picture and the historical context on subject matter as serious as Ukraine. Instead we get pictures of U2 giving concerts in an underground bunker in Kiev. Instead of 4 journalists on the ground. 2 in Kiev and 2 inside Russian controlled areas. When you don’t provide the nuance then people move elsewhere to find it. This is what terrifies mainstream media. The exodus. It seems to me that a good portion of all Good information projects and disinformation algorithms is to help stop the exodus by kneecapping the alternatives.
So, what many mainstream publications and social media platforms spend most of their time doing is “debunking” strands of the opposing narrative. Fact-checking the other guy’s or gal’s argument. Hardly ever are their own assumptions or narrative questioned. Now, if news organisations just put their hands up and said:
“ Hey - we are pro-Ukraine and will be exlusively supporting that narrative”
The public could quickly digest the fact and get on with their reading and go elsewhere for the counter narrative and then make up their minds. The reason all news has lost credibility is because they don’t do this. They pretend they are not party to an underlying narrative. Yet we all know they are and they all know they are.
In a narrative driven news cycle or social media news cycle on a big theme like COVID or Ukraine, a lie, misrepresentation or omission is considered OK because of the superior moral justification of the overall narrative. When Kinzen talks about about their machine learning techniques we must remember that neither of the two leaders of Kinzen, I doubt, could read, never mind write a database stored procedure or function. Or execute a piece of code. They are legacy news people. This is why many of the legacy media hate the idea of an Elon Musk and Twitter marriage. He plans to put mathematicians in charge of algorithms not liberal news people. As you can see from his recent tweet. He also plans to open source Twitter’s algorithms. Will Kinzen make the same pledge?
Why is any of this important you may wonder. Well, all narrative driven news has holes. Because the audience is being sold a story not individual specific truths or facts. So, when a big media narrative disintegrates, that has been wholesale supported across the board with errors of omission and downright lies, like the “ The Trump/ Russia Collusion theory “ it destroys the integrity of the whole media industry. And when that industry doesn’t apologise for perpetuating it you lose a chunk of people forever. CNN and MSNBC being two of the biggest proponents of that particular silly narrative with countless baseless stories. And now CNN has representation on the Irish body responsible for protection against disinformation. We are rewarding and promoting bad behaviour. Only in Ireland.
When this happens people look elsewhere for their news. The response of the media and the disinformation protection industries is to train their new shiny algorithms on the people and publications that make up the new frontier land of “Elsewhere”. Instead of pointing the mathematical models in the first instance on the legacy media bad behaviour that kick started the exodus. Bonkers stuff.
Mark Little is on the DCU external advisory board as mentioned earlier. Now, each external board member has an associated biography on the Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society (FuJo) website, so that people can get a feel for the expertise they bring to the table. Now read Mark Little’s bio below very carefully as there will be a little pop quiz in a minute.
OK folks, what piece of information does Mark Little’s biography above not contain?
It doesn’t tell us that Mark Little is the CEO of Kinzen but instead that he’s the CEO of Neva Labs. What is Neva Labs? According to Irish Times reporting Neva Labs was renamed to Kinzen in 2018. Interesting sleight of hand.
That is kind of odd isn’t ? - Why avoid the use of the Kinzen name in his biography? Kinzen has been in the Irish media for various reasons over the past 12 months. Once for an apparent contract Kinzen held with the HSE, which was less than transparent in my opinion. The other time, more recently, for their latest seed funding round which raised a couple of million yoyos. So, Kinzen’s brand has Irish name recognition why not use it?
Well, perhaps the following piece of information explains it. Kinzen has not one but TWO representatives on the FuJo advisory board. Kinzen COO Aine Kerr being the second. Maybe that is the reason for the reluctance. Why has a fledgling company with no real track record such outsized influence on the future direction of Irish disinformation?
Curiously enough, Aine Kerr’s biography includes the fact that she works for and represents Kinzen. One could make the argument that DCU or Kinzen are trying to hide the fact that Kinzen have two representatives to the wider public. Maybe Kinzen could apply one of its algorithms to this problem and flag the DCU website for only providing partially accurate information. Dare I say it even misinformation.
Now, this Fujo external advisory board is jam packed with legacy media journalists, editors and tech gurus. Not a solitary representative from civil society. Not a butcher, baker or candlestick maker in sight. As a result the institute has a massive built in design flaw. It assumes that future media, democracy and society isn’t threatened in any way by the existing media landscape and social media platforms. Who is watching the watchers behaviour in other words?
There is not a single alternative voice or independent media platform represented. Unbelievably, this Irish advisory board, again, contains not one but two journalists employed by CNN. I would argue that CNN’s relationship with facts and its over zealous pursuit of leftist narrative journalism is a huge part of the mis-information problem. Obviously, DCU or EDMO Ireland doesn’t think so.
I want to re-iterate a final point, EDMO Ireland promise on their homepage that there would be representation from across civil sectors of society. After all this is not a just an institute dedicated to future media. It claims to be concerned with the future of democracy and society. If I am not comfortable with journalists stewardship of future media guess how much involvement I want them to have in the design of future democracy and society?
Answers on a postcard.
As far as I am concerned at least 50% of this FuJo board should be filled with non media related people. There are almost none on the DCU external advisory board at the moment. Check the list below for yourself.
Disinformation is going to get worse not better with this line up.
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Paul Quigley: Paul Quigley is co-founder and CEO of NewsWhip
Liz Carolan: Liz Carolan is the Executive Director of Digital Action, which works to counter digital threats to democracy.
Gervaise Slowey: Gervaise Slowey is a non-executive director of Eason & Son Ltd.
Donie O’Sullivan: Donie O’Sullivan is a CNN reporter covering the intersection of technology and politics.
Mark Little: Mark Little is the CEO and co-founder of Neva Labs (And CEO of Kinzen!!!).
John Mulholland: John Mulholland is an Irish journalist who is the editor of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer and assistant editor of The Guardian.
Stephen Rae: Stephen Rae is Group Editor-in-Chief of INM, Ireland’s largest media group.
Samantha Barry: Samantha Barry is a world-renowned social media expert, with more than a decade of experience as a broadcast journalist. As CNN’s senior director of social news.
Ciaran Cunningham: Ciaran Cunningham is CEO of Carat Ireland, which is the largest agency in Ireland and was voted Irish Media Agency of the Year in 2016.
Noel Curran: Noel Curran is a radio and television producer and current Director General of RTÉ.
Susan Daly: Susan Daly is Editor of TheJournal.ie, Ireland’s first national-focused digital-only seven-day news publication.
Clare Duignan: Clare Duignan is a Non-Executive Director at Irish Times Ltd.
Matt Cooke: Matt Cooke is the Google News Lab lead for the UK, Ireland and Nordics.
Sebastian Hamilton Sebastian Hamilton is Group Editor of Irish Mail Newspapers.
Áine Kerr: Áine Kerr is co-founder and COO of Kinzen, a new Irish start-up developing solutions for people who want conscious control of their news experience.
Karlin Lillington: Working in journalism for over twenty years, Karlin is a technology journalist with the Irish Times.
Padraig McKeon: As an independent board director for FuJo Padraig McKeon comes from ten years serving as managing director of PR and communications consulting company Drury Communications.
Kevin O’Sullivan: Kevin O’Sullivan is the Environment, Agriculture and Science editor for The Irish Times