Valent Projects is developing a new tool to fight disinformation

December 9, 2022

Written by Jenna Paterson-Coutts

As bad-faith actors find new ways to game social media algorithms to promote disinformation campaigns, Valent Projects is raising money to build its own algorithm to fight back. 

Valent Projects is a media tech start up that specializes in addressing online manipulation founded by Amil Khan, a former journalist who saw the damage caused by disinformation campaigns during the conflict in Syria. Since its launch in 2019, Valent Projects has exposed disinformation campaigns in Sudan, UK and more. 

It’s important but time-consuming work. “We have quite a laborious process for finding networks,” explains Khan, director of Valent Projects, noting the process limits the number of investigations it can work on to about four or five a year. While NewsWhip plays a vital role in the investigative process by streamlining the monitoring of all the social content, Valent Projects’ research team is then tasked with manually checking posts and languages used to determine their authenticity. 

Since the flow of misinformation and disinformation isn’t slowing down, Valent Projects is looking to raise funds to develop a new AI tool that will increase its capacity by 10-fold. Once developed, the tool will be able to spot the coordinated inauthentic behaviour by identifying patterns in posts across different networks, explains Khan. 

When fighting disinformation, speed counts

NewsWhip’s API is expected to be one of the tool’s most important inputs. Valent Projects plans to use machine learning to sift through NewsWhip data to find content that is being reposted on hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts to clog up the social feeds of a targeted group or community. Speed will be the biggest advantage of the tool. It’s going to cut down the amount of time Valent Projects’ team needs to spend on any one account, says Khan. “That increases our capabilities in a huge way.”

While a human element would still be an essential piece to their investigations, the planned tool will allow the same team to tackle up to 40 cases per year, reducing the time needed to complete an investigation from months to a couple of weeks. Shrinking the time needed to complete its work would also allow Valent Projects to limit the impact of misinformation campaigns by identifying them and counteracting them faster. “The limitation is not actually a technical limitation; it is how many people we have,” says Khan.

NewsWhip is an easy-to-access resource that makes Valent Projects’ work more manageable, explains Khan.

Real-world results

With the proposed AI tool, Khan wants to show the world that disinformation campaigns are not our new normal. “You don’t have to accept it,” says Khan. “Whether you’re a government, whether you’re a government agency, whether you’re a company, whether you’re a group of activists, you can push back on it.”

His comments not only offer hope to those affected but also serve as a warning to those who perpetrate these disinformation campaigns. If Khan has learned anything since first investigating online manipulation it’s that bad actors can’t completely hide. “It’s not possible to manipulate  without leaving a trace,” says Khan. “That’s the nature of the beast. If you want to manipulate people, you have to do things that others will be able to spot.”

Valent has real-world results to back that statement up. By working with development agencies, non-profits, and governments, Valent has been able to get accounts taken down. In some instances, it’s even been able to get governments to physically take real-world action to protect people at risk of being attacked. 

In terms of immediate impact, Khan says social media companies tend to act quickly to block efforts to manipulate their platforms. “We have found in the past that if you want an immediate real-world impact, you need to get these networks of accounts taken down,” says Khan. “In Sudan, we saw a drop of 75 percent of disinformation activity that was fueling internal conflict. So that was an immediate effect.” 

Monitoring engagement helps Valent Projects focus its efforts

Valent Projects is also monitoring such networks to see how people respond to their content. “It’s important to know if people believe what they are reading,” says Khan. While there is a lot of misinformation floating around on social media, Valent Projects focuses on disinformation that is causing or facilitating violence and suffering.

With so many social media platforms to monitor, it’s an enormous task. NewsWhip Spike has  helped Valent Projects manage the volume by monitoring real-time feeds of web and social content with public engagement data. While Valent Projects focuses on Facebook and Twitter as that’s where mass engagement occurs, it also monitors other platforms as bad actors evolve their methodologies.      

When it comes to tackling misinformation and disinformation, Khan says, “We’re always able to do something about it,” he says. Once Valent Projects raises the money to develop its AI tool, he hopes they’ll be able to do even more.

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