Bitcoin had a successful 2017, with the value of the cryptocurrency rising nearly 2,000 percent in a single year. Its meteoric rise brought cryptocurrencies into the mainstream, with competitors like Ethereum and Litecoin also seeing large gains. While this has been an interesting financial development, it has turned Bitcoin from a digital currency into a financial asset to be bought and sold. This has largely eclipsed what made Bitcoin so revolutionary: blockchain technology.
First laid out in Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper, the blockchain is a decentralised, distributed ledger. The cryptographically sealed data is distributed across the network, preventing it from interference. Many businesses have been quick to jump onto the popular buzzword, suggesting that anything from mortgages to an individual’s creative output could be blockchain-based. However, one industry, in desperate need of change, that could benefit from the use of the blockchain, is the media.
The State of the Media
It’s no secret that journalism has struggled with the advent of the internet. In days gone by, you’d purchase a newspaper and your money would fund the high quality journalism. At some point, everyone agreed that content on the internet would be free, but the funds have to come from somewhere. Often it is through advertising, but this generates significantly less than sales. They could then accept a lower standard of reporting, without fact checking, which has given rise to churnalism. The other choice is to accept more money for sponsored posts.
The internet also gave rise to the personal blog, where regular folks could write content and post it to the web for the world to see. Blogs are the mouthpiece of an individual rather than a corporation or advertiser, and so have become incredibly important to the media landscape. However, they are also entirely unverified. If you could combine the freedom and independence of blogging, with the fact checking of journalism, could you reinvent the industry?
A New Model of Journalism
Two blockchain-based startups, Decentralized News Network (DNN) and Civil, certainly think so. DNN is based on the Ethereum blockchain, and allows anyone to submit content — as if they were writing a blog. The content is then assessed by a randomly assigned group of reviewers. If the article meet the DNN guidelines, then it will be made available to readers. Aside from residing on the blockchain to sidestep censorship and centralization, DNN operates a lot like a scientific journal with their peer review process.
Civil is also based on the Ethereum blockchain, but has a different operating model. Civil’s platform allows you to create newsrooms and stations, where readers and journalists intermingle to create a news platform. In many ways, this replicates the media structure, but removes barriers to entry so that the creation of news is democratized.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fake News?
You may feel nauseous every time you hear it, but “fake news” was one of the most popular words of 2017. The term is sometimes applied too liberally, but verifying information on the internet is a huge challenge. The clearest example of this is Wikipedia, where even crowd-sourced content and multiple references can’t always be relied for unbiased fact.
One of the difficulties in debunking fake news it that often it has already spread and established as the “correct” version of events. In a fast paced and ever changing 24-hour news cycle, by the time thorough fact checking has been done, the narrative has already been cemented, and the news coverage has moved on.
Instead, Copenhagen-based Media Sifter hopes to decentralize the media and promote critical thinking. Their blockchain-based SIFT protocol allows users to share multiple sources on a story. Then, when reading your favorite publication, you are presented with different viewpoints alongside it. Users are incentivized to do this crowd-sourced investigative work using the SFT token, which is their take on a cryptocurrency. It’s decentralized nature means that it should be free of government or business interference, an often-expressed problem in the current media landscape.
Preventing an Outbreak
Fake news is a problem, but it would be severely limited if it weren’t for social media. News travels fast through social media, and there is little verification of fact. People retweet, churn out their own views, and bots even parrot propaganda. The events at London’s Oxford Circus on Black Friday gave a demonstration on how social media spreads fake news.
A fight in the underground station led to evacuations, panic, and multiple tweets about terrorist attacks and gunshots. Even celebrities that weren’t in the immediate area helped to spread misinformation. It also doesn’t help when the platforms themselves intentionally promote misinformation all in the name of profit.
Steemit, a blockchain-based social network, hopes to change the nature of social media. Initially, Steemit seems like a mashup between Reddit and Twitter, where users can post content and get upvoted. However, if your content is well received you will be rewarded with STEEM, the platform’s cryptocurrency. The best content should then rise to the top as there is a monetary value to an upvote.
The best content, and therefore most respected users, have a financial incentive to produce high-quality content. For their part, Steemit users have an incentive to only reward high-quality posts as its their STEEM that pays the author.
Going Through Changes
The internet has changed many things for the better and put information into the palm of your hand. It should be easier than ever to find factual reporting of events around the world. Unfortunately, the economics of the industry hasn’t adapted to this new model. Blockchain technology offers a unique mechanism that may alleviate, or even eradicate, many of these issues. This could rid the world of fake news and propaganda — or at least make it easier to spot.
Platforms like Steemit and their micropayments offer an intriguing example of how high quality journalism could be funded, without the need for advertising. However, convincing people to adopt the blockchain is the largest challenge many of these platforms face. The democratic nature of blockchain tech presents a unique adoption problem — something that the multiple Bitcoin forks have found throughout the year.
What do you think of the blockchain? Will it revolutionize the media? Or is it simply the latest buzzword with no chance of real change? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Image Credit: nils.ackermann.gmail.com/Depositphotos