by Grace Sutherland and Daniel Huynh
“70% of Americans use social media for news, but Facebook and Twitter can’t solve their fake news problem. Where is The Social News Network?” asked Overlooked Founder, George Sehremelis.
Sehremelis, a 2019 graduate out of the University of Southern California, grew up being an addictive watcher of the news as his childhood days were spent glued to television sets.
Once he entered college and was exposed to a population of people that were not as addictive as him, he recognized that social media was the main source of news for his fellow buddies and classmates. What he came to find out though was that the major platforms that they were reading from did not even provide current events or news that was accurate at all.
Sehremelis says, “My family comes from a small village in Greece called Distomo. It was home to one of the highest percentage massacres by The Nazis in World War II, and it was based on a false report.
He continued in saying, “Picture me reading on social media about how Facebook propagated a genocide in Myanmar because they couldn’t effectively moderate their content. Since Facebook is essentially the internet in Myanmar, hatred spread. Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and the mainstream media in the United States did not report it like they should have.”
“This is why we’re called Overlooked, and this is why we’re building The Social News Network.”
Sehremelis came to understand that companies like Facebook and Twitter are only concerned about growing their platforms and essentially take advantage of their users.
Piotr Rojek, a 31 year old senior developer from Poland, was hooked on the idea from the start. “I passed on other opportunities to join this team,” said Rojek. “I believe what we’re doing is special, and I want to be a part of something that changes the world.”
Chukiat Phonsom, a machine learning researcher from Thailand, talked to us first hand why Overlooked is a welcomed platform in the social media landscape as the ongoing Rohingya crisis is taking place in neighboring Myanmar.
“This unfortunate event reminds us how dangerous false information is,” said Phonsom who is currently a PHD student at USC. “I think we need a responsible communication platform that can really identify dangerous trends to stop it and make sure that such a tragedy never happens again.”
Since launching at USC, the team has a growing website and social media following. Currently, Overlooked has over 6500 unique monthly users visiting overlooked.com and is growing over 50% month over month. They have over 1,600 Instagram followers, 2030 people who like their Facebook page and over 2300 followers on Twitter. They are especially proud that their launch video has over 720,000 views on Twitter.
“The key to sustaining their business is based on encouraging users to give their input, allowing them to comment and tag their friends,” said Sehremelis on building a successful social media platform. Sehremelis continued to explain by saying that, “We encourage opinion as much as possible. We think that this is actually the answer.”
The company’s journey was not always this smooth however, as the company almost went bankrupt in its earliest days of existence.
Things began to look up however as Sehremelis met the company’s first investor, Jill Higgins.
Higgins, a human rights activist and entrepreneur, was first introduced to the team at the Athena Summit, a female entrepreneurship event at USC. Higgins said she has been investing in socially responsible companies since the mid-1990s and has played a key role in the development of Overlooked.
“When [Sehremelis] explained what Overlooked did, I was on board,” Higgins said. “They really respect what I know, and I really respect what they know.”
According to Sehremelis, Higgins has been helping the team reach more audiences with several upcoming projects, such as launching a “Overlooked Premium” and a mobile application.
“We write and sell algorithms designed to combat misinformation” said Sehremelis. “We’ve built a bias detector, article summarizer, and claim identifier. These will be available for sale for $20 / year on Overlooked Premium, and they will make reading the news fun again!”
Overlooked currently uses an algorithm that examines the text written inside of every single article. From 0 to 100, with 0 being very biased and 100 being unbiased, the algorithm rates pieces with a 95 percent accuracy rate, according to the Overlooked website.
Phonsom, went into detail however that the algorithm’s capabilities are far away from its true potential.
“The goal is to make readers aware of subjectiveness that is designed to persuade readers toward specific opinions,” said Phonsom. “In the long term, we will build an automatic fact checking software where we can check the veracity of claims by building a network of facts based on reliable sources.”
The team at Overlooked has a short term goal of becoming relevant during the 2020 election. According to Sehremelis, he aims to have the platform to be the platform of choice in next year’s election where people can safely consume their news.
The message, “Our mission is to end fake news,” is plastered in the office that they call their home. Some may call that message preposterous, but for Sehremelis, this is how he is going to change the world.