Austin startup uses artificial intelligence to fight disinformation

Sunny Kim

Disinformation can affect anything from elections to your Facebook feed to businesses, and a new startup aims to help businesses fight back.

New Knowledge, an Austin-based cybersecurity startup led by UT alumni, recently received 11 million dollars to advance their artificial intelligence service that fights online disinformation for businesses. Founded in 2015, the startup uses an AI-driven software-as-a-service product, which detects threats and communicates them to corporate members.

Sandeep Verma, a UT Austin computer science alumnus and chief technology officer at New Knowledge, said some of the challenges with targeting disinformation is the complex and multifaceted nature of harmful information online.

“Disinformation as a whole is not cut and dry. It’s not as simple,” Verma said. “There’s not a (specific) thing that you’re looking for.”

Sometimes companies are unaware that they’re even being hurt by disinformation, Verma said. In these cases, New Knowledge reaches out to affect companies to propose different methods and strategies to stop disinformation from harming their corporate brands. 

Bryan Jones, whose organization Stand Up Republic focuses on working with the free press to counter disinformation, said it’s not surprising to see a company such as New Knowledge start in Austin, given that the city has a long history of utilizing social media tools and business-to-business applications, such as when a business sells a product to another.

He said the concept of disinformation is nothing new, as it is something that has existed since the 1700s, but social media has complicated the issue.

“Now you’ve got this concept of social media which allows for things to be spread much faster, much more dynamically,” Jones said. 

People who regularly use the internet, notably social media platforms, are also responsible for distributing false information online, said Robert Quigley, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I believe the software in AI and machine learning can all play a part in helping us find out what’s true and what’s not,” Quigley said. “But in the end, it really still comes down to human beings, being skeptical of information and just making sure that we’re being smart about what we push around the internet.”

He added that it’s interesting to see companies such as New Knowledge try to tackle these disinformation problems in the digital age because of the current news cycle dealing with fake news and consumers not trusting their information.

New Knowledge is working heavily with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to identify the best ways to address disinformation, Verma said. 

“I think there’s a community around people that are really interested in working on tough problems but also really interested in social good,” Verma said. “We found a lot of traction and getting the right people to join New Knowledge in Austin. It’s (Austin) really just been a great match for us.”