Collage made of news clippings. Various cut out letters read "Fake News"

Tackling the Fake News Epidemic Using Blockchain Technology

1. TRUTH IS A SUBJECTIVE TERM

Truth is a subjective term. Everyone has their own version of it. If – for example – a band of rebels assassinate an emperor, for them it is an act of defiance, and reporting it as such would be correct, and yet the crown prince will report it as a dastardly attack on the empire’s sovereignty. Both are true in their own right. But what if a media outlet reported it as ‘Someone opened fire in a civilian area! The emperor died on scene while 50 others died in a nearby hospital’? The news may be ‘true’ if the assassination genuinely did occur in public and, on average, 50 people die every day in a nearby hospital, but at its core and when taken in context, it is FAKE NEWS!

But how then do we tackle this growing epidemic if all they did is falsely portray ‘facts’? Well, my favourite solution is trust and credibility.

2. NEWS OF OLD

So, what exactly is wrong with the old news media? Why this overhaul? Well nothing is wrong. It is just outdated in today’s world and especially so in tomorrow’s. With the advent of social media, more and more people are seeking their daily share of news online, and, more dangerously, through undocumented and unverifiable sources. This way biased media, with no regards for credibility, can use social media to further their cause. In the olden days, most people got their news from a printed source, a newspaper or a book. In both of these forms of media, there is a well-established feedback loop. If a newspaper prints garbage, the newspaper quickly turns into toilet paper. The same is applicable for books or TV news channels. In the virtual world, this feedback loop is absent. If you ‘share’ garbage, no will really blame you for shovelling some. But, then, how do we bring the news of old to the age of digital media? I say we use Blockchain.

3. COMBATING CONFIRMATION BIAS

I’ve always thought that being lazy makes you more efficient. Consider something silly for example: What would convince you to watch any particular movie? Overlooking the monetary aspect of it, what would make you choose one over another? The answer comes down to trust and credibility in most cases. Trust in the makers/creatives, trust in the concept or the idea and, most importantly, trust in the reviews of friends or colleagues. So, to paraphrase Tocqueville and Becker, why don’t we apply this great experiment called democracy to the problem at hand.

4. SECONDS

In most parliamentary procedures, when trying to bring a motion to the floor, you need a second who is ready to back your ideas. Ideally, that person is vital in garnering support for the motion. Just like parliamentary procedures, I suggest that every article or piece of information need seconds to promote it – and that Blockchain should be used to track these seconds. So say, for example, that I write an article – a sensational, scandalous piece of news. I’m pretty new to the whole journalist circle so I get someone with enough credibility to second my motion, a certain Ms. X. My article now has my own credibility along with the backing of X. X hands a draft of the article to Mr Y, and he decides to back it too. Y passes it to Z, and Z has followers A-G who read it.. (So on and so forth). Now, if this article turns out to be impactful, then not only does my credibility go up, but so does that of everyone who seconded the article. If, on the other hand, I shovelled something smelly, then the credibility score falls proportionally.

Why Blockchain? Well – Y might never have read or backed my article if X hadn’t read it and backed it first. It is, basically, a chain and not a simple summation. Moreover, there’s no stronger accounting and tracking tool in the virtual world than Blockchain.

5. A LACK OF MOTIVATION

After watching ‘The Post’, a friend of mine presented the following question: In the age of freely available, online news, what would motivate journalists to dig in and uncover secrets that the general populous needs to know; secrets which might send them to jail?

Well, I must admit, this question did freak me out pretty severely. Not because I thought that no one would do this anymore – not true – but because for anyone who does do it, the risk is very high and the reward is relatively low. Ashlee Vance’s biographer, Elon (you know who), made an observation. He said that regulators had an unbalanced scale of risk and reward. If the same started happening for news media, there would be an uptick in corruption and bias, I believe. My suggestion is that we return the risk and the reward to the writers themselves.

6. GIVING BACK: RISK AND REWARD

The cool thing about Blockchain is its ability to record things, and secure those records, in real time. In 2016, musical artist Imogen Heap released her song ‘Tiny Human’ using Blockchain. Listeners purchased the song directly from her and then the money went straight to the creators of the song. I say we do the same by establishing a Blockchain of credibility.

Here’s how the whole thing will work: Everyone will get a credibility score. Authors’ credibility will be linked to the articles they write. For every second the article gets, everyone before that person will earn some credibility. Readers of the article will be able to read at a small price or nothing at all. Then, they can either buy into the article or just pass on it. This would enable us to establish a correlation between credibility and other currencies. The chain of credibility will work in a decreasing order of percentage. E.g.: 50 per cent for the author, 25 per cent for the second and 2nd second, 12.5 per cent for the 4th to 8th and so on and so forth.

7. WRAPPING UP

So – to wrap up this tale of starry-eyed innovation and hopeful conjecture, I would like to extend an open invitation. If anyone feels that this is cool, or just that you might like to talk about this idea, the author is always up for a chat.