Eleven years after felicitously establishing the media intelligence agency Storyful, Mark Little and a squad of Irish journalists are hoping lightning strikes twice with their new anti-misinformation startup Kinzen.
Banking $2.2 million in seed capital, the company currently holed up off Merrion Square aims to harness machine learning technology to combat the rise of extremism and misinformation. Supported by Enterprise Ireland, tech entrepreneur Ray Nolan and investment firms BVP and FST Growth, it would appear Kinzen is already being earmarked for a bright future if its funding anything to go by.
In layman’s terms it’s yet another entity adding to the dogpile of think tanks, NGOs and start ups trying to put a lid on populism both at home and abroad,this time specialising in creating technology to clamp down on the spread of dissent online.
If political change is coming, it is apparently coming from our social media feeds, hence the rather frantic attempts to batten down the hatches on social media censorship in the wake of the Trump ousting and excessive pandemic response.
Little’s second coming, a media past master, Little has established himself as an authoritative voice in Irish journalism
Euphemistically mixing a “unique blend of human judgement and artificial intelligence, shaped through partnership with trust and safety professionals and disinformation experts” those accustomed to the field can safely read between the lines as to what the true function of Kinzen is amid the emergent social media landscape.
Developing a plethora of technologies to monitor, evaluate and mitigate alleged misinformation, one imagines Little may be at the beck and call of global tech giants very soon as the screws tighten on public discourse in the wake of the pandemic. Incidentally, Little himself is a former VP at Twitter.
Originally configured as a type of ‘Spotify for News’, Kinzen morphed from a subscription service into an instrument to evaluate the veracity of raw content to clamp down on potential misinformation campaigns.
In many respects it’s an updated version of Little’s old tricks at Storyful, of analysis and marketing raw footage. it would increasingly appear that Kinzen has been already consecrated as ‘the next big thing’ for Irish journalism with mainline journalists already showing due deference.
Seeking ‘news from the noise’, Storyful became the hot ticket with Irish journalism in the 2010s, gathering and verifying footage in tandem with licensing more popular content. From the monetising of viral cat videos, to the harvesting of raw video intelligence from Syrian battlefields, Storyful blazed a trail in a formerly niche field of journalism – that of open source intelligence.
In the process it birthed the careers of a variety of rising stars from CNN’s much lauded Donnie Suillivan to the lusterless Aoife Gallagher.
With the company flogged to Murdoch in 2013, The Burkean hears of some disquiet on the hack rumour mill following a February announcement to trim the workforce at Storyful and the departure of some leading lights at the company.
Joined by Áine Kerr, former Manager of Global Partnerships at Facebook, Indo journalist and wife of Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Kinzen crew are drawn from the very aristocracy of Irish journalism.
With Little platformed repeatedly as an RTÉ pundit for the Afghan crisis, it appears we are witnessing the former Washington correspondents’ second coming as he takes his place as something of a kingmaker within the industry.
Older readers may remember Little in his RTE days as an international correspondent for the State broadcaster. Slightly older and Trinity based readers may recall Little from his time as a firebrand communist in TCD, rubbing shoulders with the freshly elected Ivana Bacik. With his first journalism job at a British communist newspaper, Little has even earned the praises of some on the antifascist left for his deplatforming efforts of British historian David Irving back in his uni days.
Upon graduation Little ditched the more ideologically overt campus politics in favour of a stint at the State broadcaster, becoming a household name before dipping his toe into the waters of start up capitalism. Arguably not the only university radical in modern Irish history to do so, Little is famed for his fatherly approach to management and white board lesions, he takes his place as one of the most networked characters in Irish journalism.
School ties, Little in the 1980s campaigning with then TCDSU President Ivana Bacik on abortion liberalisation.
Sitting on the politically puissant Future of Media Commission, Little is a serious maker and shaker in the world of Irish journalism. Cashing in on his contacts and experience gleaned with the State broadcaster, Storyful, for all its flaws presented a very niche yet marketable function and one which netted Little some serious coin when it was eventually sold off to the Murdoch Empire.
Now just getting on its feet, chalk down Kinzen as one to watch as Ireland increasingly looks like a global powerhouse in tech censorship and surveillance. The real power centres in this country are emerging to smother populism in the cradle from the tech giants of the Docklands to the shady world of NGO activism with Kinzen just another player, let us hope we are up to the task at hand.