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How an internet lie about the Capitol invasion turned into an instant conspiracy theory

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Just as well-known, easily identifiable far-right figures livestreamed themselves invading the Capitol in Washington, DC, a lie started spreading around the Trump-supporting internet: What if the mob was actually a group of antifa activists trying to make the president’s supporters look bad? The rumor was false, and debunked repeatedly—not least by the words and actions of the MAGA personalities who were leading the charge in front of a live audience.

The lie had been seeded already, since false claims about antifa are peppered through the history of far-right online spaces. A typical conspiracy theory features an unfounded warning that buses loaded with protesters are being sent to cause trouble in small towns. President Trump himself has repeatedly promoted such claims, helping to turn anti-fascist protesters into go-to villains for his supporters. 

That gave fuel to the latest rumor, false though it was. It rapidly made its way through social networks, broadcast news, and online media—and was amplified and supported by some Republican politicians.

According to data from media intelligence firm Zignal labs, at least 411,099 mentions of the lie appeared online in less than 24 hours. The rumor morphed and gained traction as more people contributed subplots, and it swerved through niche platforms and into the mainstream, where a Republican member of Congress blamed antifa for the insurrection.

How it happened

As the congressional certification of electoral votes took place on Wednesday, a Trump rally outside the Capitol quickly turned into chaos. At around 2.30 p.m. EST, protesters moved through police lines and mobbed the building.

Around 3:30 p.m., Lin Wood, a well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist, posted on Parler, the social network that is popular among some Trump supporters. He claimed that the mob were antifa supporters, and that two separate images—one of a man from the Capitol mob and the other supposedly from “phillyantifa.org”—showed the same person. The post got 5.6 million views and over 56,000 upvotes.  With that, the seed was planted.

An hour later, Wood posted another image on Parler. The second post was an annotated version of the now-infamous photograph of a man standing at the vice president’s marble dais in the Senate chamber. The post had a big red circle over a photographer believed to be Win McNamee of Getty Images, who looked down from the balcony onto the rioter below. Wood claimed that the photographer’s presence was proof of a set-up. The second post got almost as much attention as the first. 

From there, the rumor quickly moved beyond Parler onto more mainstream social media websites. Tweets promoting the antifa lie quickly amassed tens of thousands of retweets. Some, like those from Wood’s Twitter account, are no longer available (Wood was permanently banned from Twitter on Wednesday afternoon), but others remain online. At 4:39 p.m. the Trump-supporting televangelist Mark Burns tweeted a photograph of Jake Angeli, a well-known QAnon follower who was part of the group that invaded the Capitol. Burns claimed, “This is NOT a Trump Supporter … This is a staged #Antifa attack.” Eric Trump, the president’s son, liked the tweet, further distributing it to his 4.5 million followers. Despite its false claim, Burns’s tweet is still available on Twitter, without a disclaimer.

The rumor was spreading on Facebook by midafternoon as well. In various “Stop the Steal” groups monitored by MIT Technology Review, posts featuring annotated images of protesters scrutinized their likenesses, tattoos, and clothing for supposed antifa symbolism. The engagement on the posts was high relative to other content in the groups, and we were able to trace several images and text across multiple groups. Facebook has since removed some of the posts, but many remain. 

It was on Facebook that the rumor morphed to envelop other “signs” of antifa involvement. These included claims that rioters with MAGA hats worn backwards were actually antifa supporters, and allegations that such a massive security breach could only be the result of a coordinated setup. 

By 5:00 p.m., the rumor was bubbling up to the ears of officials and news organizations. Arizona representative Paul Gosar, a Republican, retweeted a now-deleted message from right-wing campaigner Michael Coudrey that claimed a video of some of the mob wearing knee pads “has the hallmarks of antifa provocation.” Coudrey’s Twitter account has since been suspended.

Republican representative Matt Gaetz, of Florida, told the House that antifa was behind the invasion that had disrupted proceedings and left four people dead. (House Television via AP)

At 7:45 p.m., Sarah Palin went on Fox news to claim the mob was actually led by antifa supporters, echoing Lin Wood’s original posts on Parler. Fox News host Laura Ingraham continued to amplify the rumors on her show, while niche conservative media outlets like the Washington Times published articles that asserted these lies as truth, including one claiming that a facial recognition company had identified members of the mob. The publication has since retracted its story, but before it disappeared, it had been shared 87,800 times on Twitter and 89,700 times on Facebook, according to Zignal. 

Then, when the invasion was over and Congress resumed in the late evening, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, took to the House floor and blamed antifa during a fiery speech. In it, he claimed that “some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”  

Gaetz cited the now-deleted Washington Times story to support what he was saying. 

And on Thursday morning Republican congressman Mo Brooks tweeted that “fascist ANTIFA orchestrated Capitol attack with clever mob control tactics.” While he claimed to provide evidence of this, his later explanations mostly just referred to other false online rumors and attacked the “#fakenewsmedia.” The thread gained more than 25,000 retweets in a few hours on Thursday and continues to be shared at a brisk pace. 

A hint of the future

All this happened even though Trump himself was clear that the Capitol invaders were his supporters, and even though the president had encouraged his followers to go to Washington and disrupt the certification of an election outcome that he falsely claimed was illegitimate. 

In fact, the rapid propagation of the Capitol false flag theory hints at what might happen once the president loses power in 14 days—even if moves by Twitter and Facebook to block Trump’s social media accounts become permanent.   The network of right-wing conspiracy theorists may perhaps lose one of its most amplifying and strategic voices, but it does not need Trump to remain dangerous. 

Even when they viewed events with their own eyes on Wednesday, during one of the most disgraceful moments in modern American history, the ecosystem of Trump supporters, right-wing media outlets, and some politicians instead chose to believe something that sounded better to them—whether it was a lie or not.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Unmind raises $47M for a platform to provide mental health support in your workplace

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Mental health has been put into the spotlight in a big way in recent times. For many of us, our lives and lifestyles have changed massively in the last year, and alongside that, we’re collectively facing pandemic-fueled mortality on a global scale in a way that hasn’t existed for generations, a perfect storm of sorts that has inevitably had an impact on our state of mind and our moods.

Today a startup that has built a platform to help people think about and respond to this situation is announcing a big round of growth funding, specifically to help address all of this and how it plays out in one of the more stress-inducing aspects of our life — our workplaces.

Unmind — a London startup that has built a mental health app for the workplace — has raised $47 million, a Series B that it will be using to continue investing in its research and development and also to expand its business reach. The funding is being led by EQT Ventures –- a very active investor at the moment in UK growth rounds — with participation also from Sapphire Ventures and previous backers Project A, Felix Capital, and True.

The core of Unmind’s service is an app built around a set of questions to help employees explore their own states of mental health, which could include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a host of other manifestations. It provides advice and content to begin addressing the results of that — exercises, advice, podcasts, links for further reading, and links to seeing further help from professionals (not more machine interfaces, but humans). It also provides a service to the employers, sharing anonymized data from the app with them so that they, too, can consider how better to respond to their employees’ needs.

The app has seen some notable traction especially in the last year, a time when the conversation about mental health has become much more commonplace and critical, given the environment we’ve been living in.

Unmind does not disclose user numbers, nor how they have grown, but it tells me that uptake and adoption of its app ranges from 15% to over 60% of an organization’s workforce (this varies by size, and the emphasis that the organization itself puts on using the app, among other things). It said that of those employees who are using Unmind, 88% have said they experience an improvement in mental wellbeing, work, or relationships, while 92% report higher confidence, awareness, and understanding of mental health.

The company also said that revenues grew by more than 3x in the last 12 months. Meanwhile, its customers include major retailers like John Lewis and M&S, high street bank TSB, Uber, Samsung, Virgin Media, British Airways and Asos — a list of companies that have strong degrees of customer service around them, have been greatly impacted by the lockdowns, and you can imagine must have a lot of people working in them pretty stressed out as a result of being on the front lines of interfacing with a stressed-out wider population of consumers.

The company was co-founded by Dr Nick Taylor, who previously had been a clinical psychologist and worked for years in mental health care (and before that was a classically-trained singer), who said he came up with the idea after feeling like he was seeing too many people only for the first time at a stage when their issues were already very advanced.

“I kept encountering the same frustration time and again: I wish I’d met this person six months ago,” Taylor said in an interview.

As with all kinds of preventative healthcare, it’s always better to identify and work on issues before they grow big and more urgent, and so he set out to think about how one might approach the concept of a preventative check-up and check-in for mental health.

The workplace is not a bad place to base that effort. Not only is it often a source of stress for people, but it’s a regular place for them to be every day so creating a way of assessing mental health through that implicitly creates a kind of routine to the effort. It also potentially means a closer connection to the employer to work on issues more collectively when and if they emerge, in a way that the employer might not do (or ever discover) through other means.

The connection between work and mental health is a longstanding one but has perhaps been proven out more than ever before in the last year.

“I didn’t know what would happen with mental health during Covid,” Taylor recalled. “I actually wondered if it would be demoted,” given all of the other conflicting priorities. “But the prevalence of mental illness has escalated. It’s out of control. And in the workplace, it’s a leading cause of absenteeism and turnover.” And given how full-on everything has become, including likely more hours spent working since now it all has merged with our home lives, we all know (and may well be among) many people who are feeling incredibly burned out right now.

Taylor said that in fact quite the opposite has happened to his early skepticism: mental health has become front of mind, “and the shackles of stigma are falling away.”

This is part of what has really caught the eye of investors: technology that is not just effective, but very relevant to right now. “It is now universally recognized that our Mental Health is as important if not more important than our physical health – but has long been neglected. That is now changing rapidly,” said Alastair Mitchell, a partner at EQT Ventures. “As a result there has been a massive rise in the popularity of consumer mental health apps which is now being matched by surging demand from employers and employees for the same in the workplace. Unmind is the leading mental health app for the enterprise and we are so excited to work with Dr Nick and the team to support their scaling globally.” EQT is also a strategic investor, not just a financial one: it’s rolling out Unmind across its own workplace and its many portfolio companies.

Unmind, it should be noted, is not the only company that has identified this “opportunity,” if you could call it that. They include other startups like SF-based Ginger — which has also built a platform that partners with employers, but also healthcare providers and other stakeholders, to help people identify and manage their state of mind. Ginger has been well-capitalised over the years. Others in the same space include Welbot in New York, Spill also out of London and a host of others providing different aspects of mental wellness like Calm and Headspace, the meditation apps.

I’m inclined to think that, given the size of the problem and that mental health should not be a bunfight but something that takes a village to address, the key will be in how each company approaches its remit, and how people respond to it, and whether what people do ultimately use results in better bridges for employees to getting the help and peace they need, whether it’s from the app or a professional.

“We have a responsibility to connect with our mental health in the same way that we do when it comes to healthcare,” Taylor said, likening the effort to how it takes a number of skill sets sometimes to work on the complexities of a health issue. “Great healthcare integrates across a number of systems.”

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Dutch startup QphoX raises €2M to connect Quantum computers with a Quantum modem

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When eventually they become a working reality, Quantum computers won’t be of much value if they simply sit there on their own. Just like the internet, the value is in the network. But right now there’s scant technology to link these powerful devices together.

That’s where QphoX comes in. Thus Dutch startup has raised €2 million to connect Quantum computers with a ‘Quantum modem’.

The funding round was led by Quantonation, Speedinvest, and High-Tech Gründerfonds, with participation from TU Delft.

QphoX aims to develop the Quantum Modem it created at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) into a commercial product. This networks separate processors together, allowing quantum computers to scale beyond 10’s or 100’s of qubits. Look out for the Singularity folks…

Simon Gröblacher, CEO and co-founder of QphoX told me: “It is the exact same thing as a classical modem except for quantum computers, so it kind of converts electrical and microwave signals to optical signals coherently, so you don’t do any of the quantum information in the process. It then converts it back so you can really have two quantum computers talk to one another.

I noted that there’s more than one type of quantum computer. He countered “We are in principle agnostic to what kind of quantum computer it is. All we do at the moment is we focus on the microwave part, so we can work with superconducting qubits, topological qubits etc. We can convert microwaves to optical signals and they can talk to each other. Currently, the only competitors I know are all the in the academic world. So this is we’re the first company to actually starts building a real product.”

Rick Hao, Principal with Speedinvest’s Deep Tech team, added: “ We want to invest in seed-stage deep technology startups that shape the future and QphoX is well-positioned to make a major impact. Over the next couple of years, there will be rapid progress in quantum computers. Quantum Modem, the product developed by QphoX, enables the development of quantum computers that demonstrate quantum advantage by combining separate quantum processors.”

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UK fashion portal Lyst raises $85M in a ‘pre-IPO’ round, reportedly at a $500M valuation

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E-commerce continues to be a huge focus for investors watching consumer behavior and spending patterns in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the latest development, UK startup Lyst, a portal for high fashion brands and stores to sell directly to users, has picked up $85 million, in what the startup is describing as a ‘pre-IPO’ round.

The news comes as the company says that it has now grown to 150 million users browsing and buying from a catalog of 8 million products from 17,000 brands and retailers.

List said that gross merchandise value in 2020 was over $500 million, with new user numbers growing 1100% growth in new users. GMV has definitely been accelerating. Lyst has been around since 2010 and said today that lifetime GMV is more than $2 billion.

“Lyst is rapidly becoming a fashion category leader, which hundreds of millions of fashion lovers rely on to decide what to buy. While our app and website already enjoy very large audiences in the USA & Europe, fashion e-commerce remains under-penetrated in general, with huge growth potential globally. We’re excited to use this raise from top-tier investors to continue personalising the fashion shopping experience to each of our millions of customers, while helping our partner brands thrive,” said Chris Morton, Lyst’s CEO and founder, in a statement.

We have contacted the company to ask about the timing and location for a public listing and while it has not commented, we understand that London or New York would be the most obvious locations for a listing, which is not likely to be for another year or even three.

For now, Lyst has disclosed that investors in this latest injection include funds managed by Fidelity International, Novator Capital, Giano Capital and C4 Ventures, as well as a mix of financial and strategic previous backers Draper Esprit, 14W, Accel, Balderton Capital, Venrex and LVMH. Carmen Busquets — a strategic advisor to the company who co-founded Net-a-Porter, one of Lyst’s competitors in the space — also increased her investment in the company with this round, the company said.

Lyst is not disclosing its valuation but PitchBook notes that with this round, it is $500 million post-money. (We’ve also asked the company to confirm whether this is an accurate figure.) Sky News, where the funding news was leaked last night, did not have a valuation figure.

For some further comparison and context, though, Farfetch, another competitor in the same space as Lyst, listed publicly some years ago and currently has a market cap of $14.4 billion. And more generally, there is a lot to play for here online, not just against other pure-play fashion portals, but also standalone retailers, marketplaces like Amazon, and increasingly social media apps like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat, which are all looking at how they can better capitalize on how their platforms are already being used quite aggressively and widely for social commerce.

Social media sites would be an ironic but perhaps very unsurprising competitor for Lyst, which started life as a pioneer in the concept, creating a way for people to follow influential high fashion brands and influencers on its platform — who were not actually called “influencers” at the time, but curators and bloggers (the more things change, eh?) — and get alerts when items would be posted by them for sale.

People might have originally been very skeptical about how well high fahion (read: expensive, sometimes esoteric) might play over screens, but over time Lyst and the others in the same proved it all out in spades, raising successive rounds over time to back up its premise. Balenciaga, Balmain, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Moncler, Off-White, Prada, Saint Laurent and Valentino are among the brands that appear on Lyst today.

Over the years, more variations and competitors have presented themselves, but the salient fact remains that high fashion has a huge target audience delivered in the right way, and that is something that investors, brands, influencers, and these marketplaces themselves have all doubled down on in the pandemic.

It’s been a time when people who have not found themselves outright struggling financially (and there are lot of those, unfortunately), have instead found themselves with more disposable income since they went out and travelled significantly less than before. Fashion and buying goods for ourselves has become a form of escapism, and for those who get a lift out of the tree falling in the forest and being there to hear the sound, we can still put on the outfits, snap ourselves for our Stories, and exposure will still be ours.

“Lyst has made huge progress over the past year with its industry leading app for the fast- growing online luxury fashion market – a trend which looks set to continue as consumers retain their newfound digital habits, and demand for fashion rises further post-pandemic. In recent years we have seen other high-growth fashion tech businesses taking the next step, and we believe Lyst is well positioned to capitalise on this market momentum. Draper Esprit has backed Lyst since Series A and we believe this latest round sets the business up for an exciting next phase,” said Nicola McClafferty, a partner, Draper Esprit, in a statement.

Lyst also announced a few appointments to firm up its executive bench in the lead-up to its next steps as a company. Mateo Rando previously at Spotify, is joining as chief product officer to focus largely on Lyst’s popular mobile app. And Emma McFerran, formerly general counsel and chief people officer, is stepping up as COO and a new board member.

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