Twitter, Craigslist co-founders back fact-check startup Factmata

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(Bloomberg) -- Twitter Inc. co-founder Biz Stone and Craigslist Inc. co-founder Craig Newmark are investing in London-based fact-checking startup Factmata, the company said Thursday.

It declined to disclose either the amount of the investment or the valuation of the deal.

“It's critical for societal progress to proactively address misinformation,” Stone said in a statement provided by Factmata. He said the company is “approaching the issue with exactly the right combination of big thinking, focus, and cutting-edge science.”

Factmata aims to use artificial intelligence to help social media companies, publishers and advertising networks weed out fake news, propaganda and clickbait. The company says its technology can also help detect online bullying and hate speech.

Founded last year, the company is one of a growing number of big technology firms, startups and non-governmental organizations aiming to combat the spread of fraudulent news stories on digital platforms. The U.S. government is investigating Russian-backed efforts to deliberately spread false information during the 2016 presidential campaign. In the U.K., Parliament is also looking into whether a similar Russian-linked campaign sought to sway voters’ views during the 2016 Brexit vote and the 2017 general election.

Newmark and Stone are joining other well-known investors, including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, MuleSoft Inc. founder Ross Mason, Zynga Inc. co-founder Mark Pincus and internet entrepreneur Sunil Paul, who participated in a $750,000 seed funding round for Factmata in September.

Dhruv Ghulati, Factmata’s chief executive officer, said the startup’s approach to fact-checking differs from other companies. While some companies are looking at a wide range of content, Factmata is initially focused exclusively on news. Many automated fact-checking approaches rely primarily on metadata – the information behind the scenes that describe online news items and other posts. But Factmata is using natural language processing to assess the actual words, including the logic being used, whether assertions are backed up by facts and whether those facts are attributed to reputable sources.

Factmata is planning to launch its own news service later this year. “We want this to be a news platform that is enjoyable and the best place to read news on the internet,” Ghulati said. He said he doubts people will use Facebook as their main source of news in five to 10 years.

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