Kinzen, a media start-up with a focus on “combating misinformation” was paid €11,992.50 a month for work they did for the Department of Health. This is despite an earlier statement from Minister Stephen Donnolly that the firm had been paid substantially less for their work.
Kinzen was founded by Mark Little, formerly of RTE and Storyful; Áine Kerr, formerly of Storyful and Facebook; and Paul Watson, formerly of Storyful. Kerr is the wife of Labour TD, and former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin.
In total the Department paid Kinzen just shy of €108,000 for 9 months of work. Excluding VAT Kinzen was paid €87,750 for their work, at a rate of €9,750 a month. Kinzen’s work consisted of providing the Department with a “daily summary of trends,” and facilitating a “weekly debrief to DoH & HSE identifying key areas of concerns and mitigating actions.” Some of the material flagged was Kinzen was later reported to social media companies as “harmful misinformation” by the HSE, as part of a misinformation programme which eventually extended far beyond simply reporting misinformation.
In mid-October Stephen Donnelly said, in response to a Parliamentary Question (PQ) from Deputy Carol Nolan (Ind), that the Department of Health had paid Kinzen €78,000, excluding VAT, but it appears that, at the time the Minister made his response, the Department of Health still had an outstanding invoice from Kinzen. That invoice wasn’t mentioned by the Minister but documents seen by Gript show that the Department had received the invoice well in advance of the date of the Minister’s response. The failure of the Minister to mention the outstanding invoice led to at least one article which substantially understated the monies paid by the state to Kinzen.
In his response to Deputy Nolan’s PQ Donnelly also said that Kinzen was “engaged” by the Department in early 2021, but documents seen by Gript show that Kinzen was already working with the Department as early as December 2020. In February of 2021 officials from the Department contacting Kinzen, asking that Kinzen put together a proposal/costing for the Department and Kinzen to work together for an initial six month period, which was later extended. The direct approach of Kinzen by officials at the Department of Health is perhaps what the Minister was referring to when he said that the “extreme urgency” of the situation meant “it was necessary to procure this service outside of normal tendering processing.”
Despite the fact that Kinzen’s proposal was only put forward in February, Kinzen backdated their proposal to include, and subsequently invoiced for, work they had completed for the Department in January, 2021.