Who fact-checks the fact-checkers?

The recent stoush between POTUS and Twitter on fact-checking and his alleged use of violent invective has rekindled the debate on whether, and how, social media should be regulated. It’s a potential quagmire (especially the issue of free speech), but it also comes at a time when here in Australia, social media is fighting twin legal battles – on defamation and fees for news content.

First, the issue of fact-checking on social media. Public commentary was divided – some argued that fact-checking is a form of censorship, and others posed the question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (who fact-checks the fact-checkers?) Others suggested that fact-checking in this context was a form of public service to ensure that political debate is well-informed, obvious errors are corrected, and that blatant lies (untruths, falsehoods, fibs, deceptions, mis-statements, alternative facts….) are called out for what they are. Notably, in this case, the “fact” was not edited, but flagged as a warning to the audience. (In case anyone hadn’t noticed (or remembered), earlier this year Facebook announced that it would engage Reuters to provide certain fact-check services.) Given the current level of discourse in the political arena, traditional and social media, and the court of public opinion, I’m often reminded of an article I read many years ago in the China Daily, which said something to the effect that “it is important to separate the truth from the facts”.

Second, the NSW Court of Appeal recently ruled that media companies can be held responsible for defamatory comments posted under stories they publish on social media. While this specific ruling did not render Facebook liable for the defamatory posts (although like other content platforms, social media is subject to general defamation laws), it was clear that the media organisations are deemed to be “publishing” content on their social media pages. And even though they have no way of controlling or moderating the Facebook comments before they are made public, for these purposes, their Facebook pages are no different to their own websites.

Third, the Australian Government is going to force companies like Facebook and Google to pay for news content via revenue share from ad sales. The Federal Treasurer was quoted as saying, “It is only fair that the search ­engines and social media giants pay for the original news content that they use to drive traffic to their sites.” If Australia succeeds, this may set an uncomfortable precedent in other jurisdictions.

For me, much of the above debate goes to the heart of how to treat social media platforms – are they like traditional newspapers and broadcast media? are they like non-fiction publishers? are they communications services (like telcos)? are they documents of record? The topic is not new – remember when Mark Zuckerberg declared that he wanted Facebook to be the “world’s newspaper”? Be careful what you wish for…

Next week: Fact v Fiction in Public Discourse

Steam Radio in the Digital Age

A few years ago, I wrote a blog on how radio had come of age in the era of social media. And despite podcasts and streaming services making significant inroads into our listening behaviour, radio is still with us. Plus it now gets distributed via additional media: digital radio (DAB), internet streaming, mobile apps and digital TV.

Image sourced from flickr

Most mornings I get my first information hit from the radio. Likewise, the midnight radio news bulletin is usually the last update of the day. When I’m on my way to or from the office I’m either catching up on a podcast or streaming radio, via TuneIn or dedicated station apps.

I particularly enjoy the BBC’s catalogue of on-demand content – both contemporary material, and archive programmes. There’s something inexplicable about the appeal of listening to 50-60 year old recordings, themselves being dramatisations of books and plays first published 100 years or more earlier.

The main reason I turn to these relics of steam radio is because I can curate what I want to listen to, when I want to listen. These programmes are also an antidote to much of what gets broadcast on commercial radio stations, which I find is mostly noise and no substance. (Blame it on my age, combined with being a self-confessed music snob.)

Most of these archive radio recordings still work because of two things: the calibre of the material; and the high production values. The former benefits from tight script editing and strict programme lengths. The latter is evident from both the engineering standards and the sound design.

One of the paradoxes of modern technology is that as the costs of equipment, bandwidth and data come down (along with the barriers to access), so the amount of content increases (because the means of production is much cheaper) – yet the quality inevitably declines. And since in the internet era, consumers increasingly think that all online content should be “free”, there is less and less money to invest in the production.

The importance of having a high level of quality control is inextricably linked to the continued support and funding for public broadcasting. With it, hopefully, comes impartiality, objectivity, diversity and risk-taking – much of which is missing in commercial radio. Not that I listen very often to the latter these days, but it feels that this format is destined to increased narrowcasting (by demographic), and parochialism.

In this era of fake news and misinformation (much of it perpetrated and perpetuated by media outlets that are controlled or manipulated by malign vested interests), and at a time of increased nationalism, divisive sectarianism and social segregation, it’s worth remembering the motto of the BBC:

“Nation shall speak peace unto nation”

Notwithstanding some of the self-inflicted damage that the BBC has endured in recent years, and the trend for nationalistic propaganda from many state-owned news media and broadcasters, the need for robust and objective public broadcasting services seems more relevant than ever.

Next week: Craft vs Creativity










Level 3’s Enterprise #Pitch night

As part of the recent Melbourne #Startup Week, IT consulting firm, Versent hosted a B2B pitch event at their product development lab, Level 3. Introduced by Thor Essman, the judges for the evening were Grant Thomson from York Butter Factory, Paul Naphtali of VC fund Rampersand, and Carl Rigoni, Head of Digital at Australia Post. It presented a very focussed cohort of enterprise solutions, that covered employee comms and engagement, design thinking and cybersecurity.

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 2.14.42 PMPax Republic

Pax Republic is positioned as an employee engagement platform that grew out of the founders’ background in mediation. Recognizing that organisational change programs have a high failure rate, the founders explained that lack of project or employee data isn’t the problem; it’s a shortage of actionable insights and recommendations.

The solution offers text-based content and scripted dialogue combined with AI and online facilitators. Many traditional enterprise tools don’t work, either because they don’t reduce time and cost, or they can’t scale.

When asked if AI can measure sentiment or mood, the founders explained that the system makes use of emoticons to capture employee feedback plus keystroke analysis. In terms of a commercial model, the goal is to train up internal facilitators to deliver the service, rather than getting involved with specific change management projects.

The judges felt that the pitch needed to refine the problem statement and the solution proof points, as well as explain what makes this solution different. In particular, who is the buyer? It’s also important to tell the sales story, and expand on the risk transfer and pricing benefits.


Forticode has developed an elegant and deceptively simple password protection solution, to remove the risk and costs of password resets for their corporate clients. Basically, it can support multi-factor authentication using colour coding and a randomized keypad, incorporating character sets as well as emojis.

It can provide context aware authentication, and native protection from endpoint hacking attacks, via a plug-in architecture and 3-factor authentication, using patented technology.
According to the founders, finger prints are immutable, but still do not provide 100% identity confirmation on touch screen devices.

There were questions from the judges and the audience about alternative solutions. Compared to an IPA gateway for trust and authentication or password aggregators, Forticode offers a much more robust solution and can support machine-to-machine verification.

The sales model is to target security teams within risk and compliance departments, and price on a per user per month basis. Importantly, there is no third-party software in the stack. And, there was even an offer to introduce the founders to Auspost….

Naked Ambition

With the tag line of “Always Be Creating”, Naked Ambition is a consultancy for innovation and design thinking. Their process is to focus on future needs, help clients get closer to their customers, and in doing so, help employees to leverage customer insights. The ultimate goal is to make design thinking skills ubiquitous. Naked Ambition’s aim is to embed the teaching in the organisations they work with.

The judges questioned who exactly is the customer, and what segments do they work in? There was also some discussion whether the service was more about personal branding and intrapreneurship, rather than pure solution design.

In particular, the judges wanted to know what gives Naked Ambition the “license” to offer their services? Despite hiring a leading design thinking expert from IBM, there was a sense that there is an oversupply of similar services, and that clients are not looking for yet another program. Instead, they are thinking about “buying units of innovation” for specific projects, as and when they need them.


Last to present was Konnective, a business I have blogged about before. In short, this is an employee messaging app for frontline staff, many of whom do not have corporate e-mail addresses, let alone access to a their own desktop computer.

As part of the product development, Konnective now offers Groups, dashboards, analysis of what’s working and employee reach. Charging a basic annual fee per employee, Konnective has clients in mining, healthcare and manufacturing. The platform supports OH&S comms, promotes shift availability that can reduce agency hiring fees, and help reach hourly employees who don’t access corporate e-mail.

The judges asked about BYOD, and the risk of/resistance to having organisational data on personal mobile phones. Plus, why Konnective and not, say Yammer or Slack? These are answers that need to be made more explicit. Finally, Konnective is still working on data analytics, and there was a suggestion of opportunities among travel companies and tour guides, but that would require some multilingual capabilities.

On the night, Forticode won the judges over and took out first prize. This was the second of these events, and I look forward to attending more in future.

Next week: Startup Victoria’s #Pitch Night for #Startup Week

#StartupVic showcases the next batch of startup hopefuls

Startup Victoria‘s monthly pitch event is gaining momentum, and continues to draw a good crowd at inspire9. It can’t just be the beer’n’pizza, can it? April’s event brought together an intriguing mix of startups – from the FinTech, SoMe, health food and enterprise sectors.

If it's the last Tuesday in the month, it must be Startup Vic's pitch night at inspire9.... (Photo sourced from Meetup)

If it’s the last Tuesday in the month, it must be Startup Vic’s pitch night at inspire9…. (Photo sourced from Meetup)


This app-based solution claims to have more than just its finger on the pulse of Melbourne’s nightlife, in the form of a “Teleportation” experience. If you want to check out what’s going on at that club or bar before you leave home, Liive will beam visitor and sponsor sourced content onto your smart phone. It’s sort of a social media cum streaming cum location-based service, which promoters and venues can license and then encourage patrons to share their video grabs (in return for free drinks….).

While the app is free to download and use by individual customers, revenue comes from event and venue promotion, and is pitched as a user experience that enables patrons to “try before they buy”. Liive reckons it has got the CPA down to A$1.68, and is experiencing 20% weekly growth based on user numbers.

Already signing up some significant leisure businesses, Liive seems to be making a splash within a relatively short space of time. In the words of one of the judges, I’m probably not the target demographic, so it’s difficult to relate to this concept. Unsurprisingly, students are a key market, but having spent time this past week facilitating a team of international students, I hope the founders can think of culturally inclusive uses and ways to promote their app.

I was also reflecting on things like privacy, content ownership, and whether this is a solution in search of a need – why not just use other, existing SoMe platforms? But it was good to hear that the content is moderated and subject to take down notices.

Estate Baron

This FinTech business is bringing equity crowdfunding to property development – and is clearly designed to displace banks. With a background in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) the founder has some relevant market experience.

The business model does away with the need for traditional investor syndicates, and is offering an alternative source of funding for property developers. To be clear, investors are taking equity in the entity (usually a special purpose vehicle – SPV) that is launching the development, not the properties themselves – so they do not get any title over individual units or apartments.

Given the need to be fully compliant with AFSL and MIS requirements, Estate Baron has a retail financial services license, and issues full product disclosure statements for each venture. So far, it has raised over $2m in project funding, from over 1100 investors.

The pitch was at pains to explain that Estate Baron holds an RG146 license for general advice only, not individual advice, so potential investors are advised to seek professional financial and investment advice suitable and appropriate to their own needs and circumstances.

Estate Baron charges a capital raising fee, which allows developers who don’t typically hold a financial license to access more investors. Currently, funding is usually done via syndicates, off-line, or via managed property funds etc.

The founders acknowledge that the idea originated overseas, and is part of a global movement. They even mentioned the possibility of using a Blockchain solution for deal origination and management.

Personally, the idea of crowdfunding for property development is appealing, but I’d like to see more market engagement before determining whether this is the right (or only) model.

Athlete’s Gift

Originally launched under the name “The GeneSpark”, this food business is promoting customised menus and recipes based on customers’ individual DNA. I think the recent change of name was prompted by brand confusion, rather than any medical concerns, but I was still left unclear as to what this business actually offers.

If I am understanding correctly, the products are special mixes of super foods, nuts, seeds and berries designed for high-protein, high-energy or recovery – using all-natural, organic and raw ingredients. Customers make their own product selections, and can even develop personal recipes to suit their DNA. But the business does not conduct DNA tests, and I don’t believe there is any verification process to ensure customers are making appropriate or safe choices – which would possibly stray into medical territory?

I sort of understand the business model (3-month subscription packages, distribution via gyms and sports clubs, etc.), and I even applaud the long-term goal of reducing chronic diseases. But I was left with the question: Is this proven science, another food fad or a product placement strategy?


Konnective has developed an enterprise solution that brings an employee messaging tool for frontline staff, regardless of their location or whether they have access to a desktop computer.

The tool was originally developed for schools (to replace the paper-based parent communications), but is finding traction within the health care, hospitality, mining, manufacturing and services sectors. To my personal surprise, many workers in these industries do not have corporate e-mail addresses. Based on push technology, it’s cheaper than SMS. The app is free to end users, but businesses pay a tiered price based on the number of employees, at $10 per person per annum.

It’s flexible enough to support mixed content types, and is managed via a back end admin platform. Already, some major public companies are on board, with the founders claiming to have 100+ clients.

To clarify, this app is about broadcasting, not team collaboration or project management. It can be used for two-way communications with employees, but only for structured content such as surveys and polls. It was not clear whether the back-end allows messaging to be targeted by location, function, department, team or even seniority – maybe not everyone in the company will have the same information needs?

I can see an opportunity among organisations that engage large numbers of contractors, freelancers and casual staff who might not have company-based individual e-mail accounts. But part of me thinks that with increased smart phone usage and BYOD (plus the fact that most e-mail clients are easily configurable to mobile devices), what makes Konnective attractive? Clearly it’s doing something right as it took out first place!

Next week: A new co-operative model for equity crowdfunding