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The End of Disinformation On Social Media? George Sehremelis and Overlooked.com
If George Sehremelis gets his way, disinformation on social media will find itself at the receiving end of a proverbial knockout punch. It’s not every day you’ll find a twenty-four year old Greek-American millennial who is on a mission to change the world by ensuring we have access – in a world over saturated with both disinformation and its cousin “misinformation” – to the truth in our daily news feeds. But that’s what Sehremelis has been working on for the past four years. He’s the founder of a new app and “social news network.” It’s called “Overlooked” and it’s quite the thing.
Sehremelis, a self-professed news junkie, traces his passion for the truth in the media to his own Greek roots. His relatives escaped the massacre of their village Distomo at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. “Seeing the tragedy and hearing stories of my family members from Distomo made me understand the importance and significance of the truth,” he says. While in college at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, he landed upon an event that would spark the launch of Overlooked – the Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar in 2017.
“I founded Overlooked after seeing disinformation spread on social media fuel hatred and genocide in Myanmar,” he says. It was the lack of oversight and responsibility by the major social media outlets to filter and stop the spread of lies, propaganda, and hate speech that created a major problem that desperately needed a solution. This problem is made considerably worse by users spreading disinformation to their large audiences of followers, and the invention of ‘bots’- or artificial intelligence programs that behave like human users – posting, commenting, and sharing content that drives falsehoods. Bots can cause a false story to trend right at the top of a social media feed. In today’s society, this is made especially relevant as 86% of Americans get their information through a smartphone, often through big technology platforms such as social media networks.
And so, Overlooked was born. According to the company, Overlooked is The Social News Network built around the world’s most trusted publishers. “85% of Americans trust local news, so we built a social network around statistically the best sources of information,” says Sehremelis. The platform also allows users to access national news – such as BuzzFeed, CNN, BBC, Fox News and Reuters to name a few – and to share and comment on articles with friends in their network.
“Our mission is to limit disinformation on social media,” says the company’s website. “And as Greek-Americans, it is our responsibility to support what is morally right – we believe that includes a healthy and active democratic system.” The relationship between disinformation and democracy is core to the company’s values. The importance of solving this problem seems to come at an important time as disinformation from the Ukraine and Russia conflict has created a new type of information war between western and authoritarian countries – again, mostly taking place across social media.
Disinformation has evolved over the years – from the printing press to network television and now into the digital age. People are getting smarter at spreading disinformation online, especially through spreading false content on existing social media platforms. “Disinformation is being weaponized by bad actors and we need to act as soon as possible” says Sehremelis. He believes that the best way to limit disinformation online is to bring trustworthy newspapers to the forefront of the technologies of the 21st century.
Overlooked has had success driving the first digital recurring revenue in the history of several of its partnered publications. As print circulation continues to decline around the world, newspapers can use Overlooked as a way to replace subscription revenue that formerly came to them through their print publication. With Overlooked Premium, users can unlock unlimited news subscriptions and choose a local newspaper on the platform to support. Overlooked comes with both free and premium ($99.99 annually or $9.99 monthly) versions. Customers are able to purchase Overlooked Premium at Overlooked.com, and once they do, the mobile application automatically updates to the premium version.
One of the early initiatives of Overlooked was to establish relationships with college newspapers around the country. These papers are at the core of access to local news but have been traditionally limited in their reach because of a physical paper model of distribution. Not only have big technology companies played a role in spreading disinformation online, but they have also monopolized the advertising space in the digital realm. This has made access to targeted advertising dollars an uphill battle for media organizations, especially small, local publishers.
Overlooked recently joined the Associated College Press as an affiliate. Together, they aim to change the trajectory of the publishing industry to a brighter future by developing revenue for student newspapers. Local news organizations that sign up on the Overlooked platform can now generate digital ad revenue that also eluded them before, particularly with local advertisers. It’s a win-win situation!
But launching a startup, one with ambitious but incredibly responsible goals, is no easy task. “We’re a very lean team that is trying to solve an important problem. We are looking to find more enterprise customers and investors who believe in our mission,” says Sehremelis. “We enjoy meeting new people who are passionate about solving the disinformation problem.”
The company is working diligently to fulfill its mission with early support from University of Southern California’s Blackstone Launchpad and the USC Incubator, some key seed investors and customers, and a dedicated team of supporters. Overlooked has been featured in TechCrunch, Forbes, Spectrum News LA, and in the Seal Beach Sun. The Los Angeles Business Journal included Sehremelis in its ‘20 in their 20s’ special edition. Overlooked was one of three companies to represent USC’s entrepreneurship program at Launchpad Propel by Blackstone and TechsStars in New York City.
After being accepted at the University of Southern California, Sehremelis now splits his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He was born in Orange County and is a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. At his high school, Los Alamitos High School, he was a former valedictorian and was the captain of the lacrosse team. At USC, George was involved in both student government and Greek life. In his free time, he enjoys fishing, going to the beach, and spending time with his family and friends. To stay close with the Greek community he grew up with, George enjoys Greek dancing and playing GOYA Basketball, in which he has participated for 14 years at his hometown parish, the Assumption Church in Long Beach, California. During the summers, Sehremelis enjoys visiting his village Distomo with his family. He has two siblings, Tina and Eleni, and was raised by his parents Andy and Leslie.
The Overlooked mobile application has a 4.9 star rating on the Apple App store and its user base is growing. Overlooked is looking for more subscribers to Overlooked Premium and for more users on the free version of the app. “It feels good to keep our audience informed, so we want to provide the best customer experience to consumers ever for a news service.” Growth is what the platform is setting its sights on: adding to its affiliate news partners and generating participation amongst its members. And then, Sehremelis’ own success story will rise to the top of his own social news network.
For more information about Overlooked their website is www.overlooked.com or search ‘Overlooked’ in the App Store.