Let’s start with this: if you don’t know what Misinfocon is or what it’s all about, you should. The summit, which took place the last weekend of February at the MIT Media Lab, brought together 200 thought leaders tackling misinformation who care about trust, verification, fact checking, and reader experience.

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I went to Misinfocon with my own preconceived notions of what misinformation was and the types of people attending. I assumed it would be a gathering of like-minded people who want to address the problem of “alternative facts.” I assumed (based on a bit of research) it would be professionally diverse (journalists, librarians, entrepreneurs, etc.). I assumed attendees would lean politically left.

What I did not expect was to come away with the profound sense of optimism I now have around this issue because people are fighting back. While some choose to believe everything they see on The Seattle Tribune and others are so depressed they’ve stopped going on Facebook or Twitter, I spent last weekend with intelligent, passionate professionals who are addressing and working on solutions to mis and disinformation (there’s a difference I learned — disinformation implies intent to deceive for the purposes of manipulation, misinformation is not necessarily deliberate or purposefully deceptive).

I saw startups working on cracking the credibility problem in journalism, working on metrics to eliminate fake news appearing as real, and non-profits educating teens about media literacy, how to think critically and distinguish real vs. disinformation.

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Photo courtesy of Phillip Smith

At Matter, we invest in media companies trying to change media for good and we are currently facing the biggest threat to media we’ve ever seen. From a President who has called the press the enemy of the people to active “alternative facts” coming from people who speak for the White House, media is under siege. But we have the tools and capabilities to fight back, and last weekend I had a chance to see just how willing and able to fight we are. People flew in from around the world to share ideas and discuss a myriad of solutions to the plethora of problems caused by mis/disinformation. I am comforted in knowing that we will solve this because there are enough of us who care to do so.

I would have considered the event a success even if it had only been the welcome drinks on Friday night — just to be able to see 200 people who came out was heartening (plus another 200 who applied but couldn’t attend due to capacity). I would have been happy regardless of whether or not I heard startup pitches that made me want to hear more.

Optimism isn’t enough, and I know that. That’s partly why I’m writing this post —in order to have enough energy to continue fighting, we need to recognize our little victories and that we can and will get there.

My two biggest takeaways from the weekend were:

  1. Matter needs to find startups that assume they will be non-profit and help them figure out whether they actually have a scalable for-profit venture. While we love non-profits, we believe that for-profit ventures have the opportunity to make more of an impact.
  2. Misinfocon was a great start to addressing this problem by bringing together people who, collectively, have the network, support, passion, and intelligence to win, but the real work starts now. It’s exciting to be in a room full of like-minded people trying to make an impact but it’s hard to continue on that journey on your own. We need to continue to support each other by making introductions, finding investors, etc.

I hope there’s no need for a 2nd annual Misinfocon, but I’m preparing myself for the reality that we will have to have one. This time, however, I will bring with me a sense of optimism and comfort that we will continue to fight mis- and disinformation and collectively we as a community will crack it.

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Photo courtesy of Phillip Smith

Matter is an SF & NYC-based startup accelerator and venture capital firm grounded in the principles of design thinking that supports early-stage media entrepreneurs and mission-aligned media institutions building scalable ventures that make society more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.

Our mission has never been more important than it is today. We are looking for scrappy entrepreneurs inspired to make real change. Our next cohort starts on June 5th. Apply now.

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