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Social media policeman Crisp eyes windfall from bumper sale

Written by on 05/10/2021

The backers of a social media company which helped track the torrent of racial abuse targeted at England footballers after the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy are plotting a sale that could land them a windfall worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Sky News has learnt that shareholders in Yorkshire-based Crisp Thinking have appointed Lazard, the investment bank, to advise on a sale of at least part of the company’s equity.

Crisp, which was established in 2005 by Adam Hildreth, its chief executive, has become one of the pre-eminent names in the fast-growing provision of social media monitoring services.

A person using a laptop.
Image: Crisp is said to have helped identify repeat offenders who are continually posting inappropriate content

In July, it disclosed that England players were bombarded with more than 12,000 abusive messages on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, with the levels of trolling after the penalty shoot-out loss sparking calls for tougher sanctions against the culprits.

The company was founded with the objective of identifying internet-based threats to children, and has since evolved into a provider of wider digital marketing services for its clients through the use of sophisticated artificial intelligence tools and a growing team of analysts.

In the introduction to last year’s Online Harms White Paper, Crisp was cited by the government for its work assessing “billions of pieces of content for illegal or harmful content, and help[ing] to identify repeat offenders who are continually posting inappropriate content”.

Crisp boasts on its website that its clients are in aggregate valued at more than $6trn, with the likes of Facebook and Alphabet-owned Google’s YouTube service understood to be among those it works with.

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In 2018, the company raised $25m from the sale of a minority stake to Baird Capital, the private equity arm of US-based Robert W Baird & Co.

The following year, it expanded its services to encompass the targeting of terrorist, conspiracy and “election interference groups”.

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Southgate: Racist abuse of players ‘unforgiveable’

An industry source said on Tuesday that its roughly one-third stake in the company could be worth well over £100m in any sale.

It is unclear whether Crisp’s other shareholders, including its founder, also plan to offload part or all of their stakes.

A number of private equity firms are understood to be interested in bidding for a large chunk of the business.

Accounts filed at Companies House show that turnover in 2020 increased by 63% to £23.7m, with a loss of just over £2m “due to the group’s strategy of reinvestment to meet future expansion plans”.

Neither Crisp Thinking nor Baird responded to a request for comment.

 Sky News

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