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James Murdoch Backs Venture to Invest in Tech Startups Fighting Deepfakes, Social-Media Disinformation

James Murdoch
Paul Hampartsoumian/REX/Shutters

James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s younger son, has a new mission: He wants to help try to “fix the internet.”

James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, the investment company he established after exiting as CEO of 21st Century Fox following the Disney deal, has joined up with seed-stage venture-capital firm Betaworks to launch an incubator that will invest in startups that are developing “humane tech,” including platforms and tools to combat fake news, abuse and spam on social networks.

The size of Lupa’s investment in the venture was not disclosed but it was in the “seven-figure” range, the FT reported.

The joint initiative is called Betalab, which has the goal of funding early-stage startups “that aim to Fix The Internet,” according to Betaworks CEO and co-founder John Borthwick.

“We’re doing this because there is a growing sense now that technology is creating more problems than it’s solving,” Borthwick wrote in a blog post Thursday. “This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when we shared an overriding optimism in tech’s capacity to make the world a better place.”

Since its formation last year, Lupa Systems has acquired stakes in Vice Media Group and location-based VR startup The Void. Lupa teamed with Attention Capital, led by former 21st Century Fox exec Joe Marchese, to acquire a controlling stake in Tribeca Enterprises.

With Betalab, Lupa and Betaworks expect to invest $100,000 into each startup in the various areas, aiming to fund 10-20 in the next year, per the FT report.

The Betalab program is focused on five areas, according to Borthwick: Software that builds trustworthiness into AI; platforms and tools that address “negative outcomes” of social networks like disinformation; products for better managing data and privacy; new tools, platforms, and business models that “foster a more sustainable news ecosystem and a better informed citizenry”; and identity and authentication tools.

In addition to investing in startups, the Betalab partners plan to create podcasts, conduct original research, and host conferences, workshops and events focused on addressing disinformation and trustworthiness.

Betaworks has invested in more than 150 companies, including Giphy, Anchor and Gimlet Media (both now owned by Spotify), Product Hunt, Medium, Kickstarter and Tumblr.