Blackbird lands $20M investment to expand its risk management tools

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Blackbird AI, a startup developing AI-powered software for risk intelligence, today announced that it raised $20 million in a Series B funding round led by Ten Eleven Ventures.

Bringing New York-based Blackbird’s total raised to $30 million, the tranche also had contributions from Dorilton Capital, Generation Ventures StartFast Ventures and Trousdale Ventures as well as angel investors.

“Blackbird was born out of a shared vision to leverage technology for the greater good of society,” co-founder and CEO Wasim Khaled told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Recognizing disinformation as one of the most alarming global threats of the 21st century, we were deeply concerned about the alarming ease with which even the most educated individuals were succumbing to the spread of online falsehoods and conspiracy theories.”

Blackbird, founded in 2017, claims that its first product — an algorithm to perform network analysis and adversarial cohort modeling — was used by the U.S. Department of Defense to analyze online propaganda and influence campaigns across high-profile websites. When the pandemic hit, forcing cuts in Blackbird’s Defense Department contract, Blackbird shifted its focus to the enterprise and rebuilt its backend systems to significantly broaden their scope, adding tools to ingest and normalize text, image, video and audio data from social media, news outlets, the dark web and elsewhere.

For organizations, Blackbird attempts to detect cyber “information” attacks directed against them, like mass deepfake campaigns, and equip IT teams with the capabilities to counter influence operations. Using Blackbird, users can delve into details like the content sharing patterns of specific actors or the narratives emerging in active discussions.

Blackbird provides heat map visualizations of how narratives — including toxic narratives (e.g., those involving hate speech) — flow across social media, flagging bot-like accounts and characterizing how high-profile people like influencers impact that flow. Blackbird claims it can discover key influencers within cohorts of people, mapping out how a narrative spreads over time.

“Blackbird enables leaders to swiftly counter misinformation, mitigate aggressive complaints and preempt backlash, positioning them as informed and proactive,” Khaled said. “Beyond threat mitigation, Blackbird also fosters business growth by keeping a finger on the industry pulse, tracking competitors and nurturing media relations. It measures the effectiveness of communication strategies, providing actionable insights for refinement.”

Of course, that’s promising a lot. We can’t speak to the accuracy of Blackbird’s platform, having not been afforded the chance to test it ourselves.

What’s undeniably true is that algorithms aren’t perfect. Machine learning algorithms still struggle to gain a holistic understanding of words in context. Compounding the challenge is the potential for bias to creep into the algorithms.

But even if it does perform as well as Khaled claims, Blackbird is far from alone in the reputation and risk intelligence space. Rivals include Graphika, Logically and Cyabra, which raised $5.6 million in October 2021.

Fortunately for Blackbird, it’s a large enough market to support a range of vendors. According to one estimate, the risk management software sector could be worth $86.53 billion by 2030 — up from $27.80 billion in 2021. A separate Deloitte report found that more than half of companies plan to address reputation risk by investing in technology such as analytical and brand monitoring tools

Blackbird wouldn’t disclose how many customers it has. But Khaled claims the growing threat from disinformation has been good for business.

“Disinformation, in our interconnected world, doesn’t just spread — it gallops, wreaking havoc on an organization’s reputation and operations,” he continued. “And let’s face it, the world isn’t becoming any less unpredictable. It’s in this very unpredictability that Blackbird finds its strength.”

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