This Startup Uses Old-School Journalism to Expose Fake News

NewsGuard just launched a tool to help advertisers avoid funding misinformation

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A year after announcing his news startup NewsGuard, co-CEO Steve Brill, founder of Court TV and the Yale Journalism Initiative, has announced a new service  called BrandGuard. Brill maintains it will help top-tier brands stay clear of fake news.

NewsGuard’s brand safety offering flags sites that publish hoaxes and misinformation, while giving the green light to legitimate publishers, according to the startup, which announced it raised $6 million 12 months ago.

The company claims its services are superior to the fake news filtering services offered by Silicon Valley’s biggest names such as Google or the brand safety offerings form the likes of Integral Ad Science or Oracle-owned Moat.

The reason is that it uses trained journalists to rate and review news and information websites for credibility and transparency, as opposed to outfits with an ad-tech background which rely primarily on AI to filter content.

NewsGuard does this by pairing with a content rating service called NewsWhip to rate web domains and then rank them as either “green’ for brand safe or “red,” meaning they should be treated with caution.

“We were introduced to the world of brand safety when people started telling us, ‘Hey, this is something that the ad-tech companies or the agencies really don’t have any way of dealing with,” Brill told Adweek.

“They’re good at pornography and hate speech because you can use artificial intelligence to flag that, but you can’t really do it for fake news because fake news tries to look and feel and sound like real news.,” he said.

NewsGuard claims BrandGuard can offer assurances to advertisers using ad tech to purchase media placements on long-tail news sites and prevent their ads from being automatically placed next to dubious content. To do so, advertisers using programmatic media trading—which is set to account for 65 percent of all online ad spend, according to Zenith—can integrate this rating service into their existing trading platforms.

NewsGuard co-CEO Gordon Crovitz said that what’s unique about his company’s offering is its ability to find and rate unreliable news websites from new or “lesser-known news sources” before they start trending on social media.

In addition to its partnership with NewsWhip, NewsGuard employs a misinformation “SWAT Team” to monitor data from a variety of sources to discover new websites that are promoting hoaxes, conspiracy theories or other forms of unreliable news. This includes fact-checking activities such as verifying the owners of such content sources. For instance, NewsGuard’s content rating services helped flag the controversial NTK Network, which was embroiled in controversy over Facebook’s ongoing struggles, as a one to be appraised by advertisers.

“They do articles at the behest of clients, so it’s not a real news site, although it looks like the news site,” Brill said. “So I know for a fact that lots of advertisers were advertising on that site and they would be embarrassed now, retroactively.”

@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.