At the bottom of this editorial, you will find direct links to the full text of every “Disinformation Digest” Kinzen prepared for the Department of Health and the HSE over the last five months.
“Combatting misinformation” in Ireland is a growing, and lucrative business, for all involved. Gript has previously revealed that Kinzen, a company founded by former RTE presenter Mark Little, and former Irish Independent reporter Aine Kerr, received almost €110,000 of public money over a nine month span, in order to help the Department of Health “combat misinformation”.
Kinzen sent the Department a digest every working day until October the 9th, when Kinzen’s relationship with the Department ended. These digests contained all the material Kinzen thought the Department needed to “identify the latest narratives of disinformation.”
While Kinzen is rather a small fish in the pond of misinformation capture, analysis and fact-checking, the work done by firms like Kinzen, and by more advanced organisations, is increasingly shaping public discourse and what sorts of information the public sees on a day-to-day basis. Almost all this work is being done in the dark, away from the public’s eyes.
Social media platforms will limit the reach of material, or totally remove accounts, which factcheckers tell them are problematic; Governments will directly contact social media companies to request they remove problematic information, using data provided to them by firms like Kinzen; and motivated actors have weaponised these processes to promote their own ends.
And nearly all of this happens without any public notification. Most of those involved, as private companies, are outside the bounds of FOI Acts and the normal checks and balances that governments and civil servants are bound by. Even where these firms work for entities like the Department of Health, enabling Gript to get records from the Department, their internal workings remain nearly totally opaque. Mark Little, one of the co-founders of Kinzen, has not responded to a single email we have sent him about any of the, at this point numerous, stories we have published about his company.
As the field continues to grow in importance it seems certain that the information we see will increasingly be shaped and influenced by people and organisations acting totally outside of the public’s view and understanding. Bias, political, ideological, or simply personal, becomes nearly impossible to detect when filtered through these organisations, and with that comes the possibility that information is being restricted not because it is false, but because it a middleman has decided it’s not good information for the public to have.
The primary reason we have decided to publish these documents is that Kinzen attempted to ensure that the details of their work with the Department of Health would not become known to the public.
To do so they requested, and received, the Department’s help to hide information about that work.
In short, a private company led a government department to seek to keep secret the details of work which was being paid for by public monies. That situation, combined with Minister Stephen Donnelly’s statement that Kinzen’s contract, which was worth – it bears repeating – nearly €110,000 for 9 months work, was organised “outside of [the] normal tendering processing”, made the public interest case for the publication of these documents overwhelming.
The most effective way to fight misinformation is to behave in a manner which causes people to trust you. Allowing firms like Kinzen to work secretly will ultimately undermine trust in public institutions, the government, and the mainstream media.
The only amendment we’ve made to the documents is to remove the names of the civil servants to whom the documents were addressed, to protect their privacy.