Blockchain can stamp out fake news and rebuild trust in mass media

Fact-checking agencies are in charge of verifying facts and claims in the news that may be distorted in the process of rewriting or for any political purposes. The news text may consist of truthful information written in a neutral format peculiar to the news, but one sentence may contain a false fact or claim whose origin is unknown. In addition, the state itself has begun to produce false information, as was the case with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s famous Twitter account.

The main strength of fake news is the rapid speed with which it disseminates. While false information has always existed, the internet makes it worse every year. The high speed of fake news sharing has the potential to directly affect public relations and have serious political and economic consequences that are sometimes difficult to predict. This is not to mention that it has become difficult to trace the original source and at what iteration true news might have become false.

Why is it so difficult to fight fake news?

Public literacy can help in the fight against false information, as online news is often characterized by unverified facts and a lack of originality. Today, it is very easy to create a misleading message or article: You just need a digital platform for the first publication, then fake news is spread by users themselves, and their number increases exponentially.

Also, the publication of fake news often generates profits for the platform owners through embedded advertising, and they are in no hurry to give up this way of generating revenue. Another problem is the misinterpretation of the source of the news. For example, a city government issues an ordinance about new restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the media can interpret this differently for the sake of traffic, clickbait and uniqueness. Any fact-checker will advise you in such a case to “always see the source.” In reality, there is no guarantee that the user will do so because the news flow is enormous and there is no time or habit to check everything.

Technologies against fake news

In addition to manual fact-checking, there are technologies for fighting fake news, like automated source finding, or an anti-plagiarism system. Sometimes fake-news producers manage to obfuscate such systems when the original source is lost.

There are more projects and studies about using various machine learning techniques to identify inaccurate information. These projects are most often based on stylistic analysis of texts and a model that has been trained on fake-news text examples. Nonetheless, there are also limitations here, such as the collection and markup of the database, as it is a very time-consuming process. Also, in many publications that sin with false news, the style of news with false information is not different from that of news with truthful information.

The same applies to bloggers on social media platforms. That said, there are examples of successful projects, such as when Twitter acquired a British artificial intelligence-based startup to help it combat the amount of fake news being spread on its platform.

How can blockchain help?

First of all, because of the very principle of its operation. A distributed ledger system involves not only the secure storage of data and the use of cryptographic encryption but also the impossibility of arbitrary changes. Smart contracts store text, images/videos and their sources on a blockchain. Anything that goes into the registry will have source data, namely who posted a particular news item — whether it be an article, photo or video — and who the source is of a particular quote. This is relevant, for example, for news agencies or government press releases whose information may be distorted when disseminated by other media.

Reliability and permanence of the original news are achieved by technology features such as cryptographic hashing, digital signatures and distributed consensus. In the proposed solution, the blockchain system for media consists of the following elements:

  • Enrollment smart contract
  • Update identity smart contract
  • Revoke identity smart contract
  • Evolvable reputation set.

Blockchain also solves another problem where media outlets retroactively change news or publication dates. The source can be traced by recording a timestamp using a “blockchain-based approach for decentralized distributed storage for tracing the origin of the news.” This is especially relevant during election campaigns or for tracing the source of hate speech and libel.

With the help of blockchain platforms, news sites can increase their transparency, and getting to the source of misinformation will become much easier and, more importantly, faster. Not only will this help another end-user verify the information, but it will also provide evidence of the metadata collected at each stage.

Now, before posting fake news, authors will have to consider that there is a way to find those responsible for its creation and dissemination, as distributed registry technology contains all the information about the data from the very first moment it appears.

What else will media collaboration with blockchain provide?

The main problem at the state level that legislators face today is the balance between human freedoms and preserving the public interest. Even in countries where the constitution prohibits passing a law restricting the freedom of speech, there are now attempts to regulate fake news, which is perceived ambiguously. At the same time, one cannot ignore the damage that disinformation does to journalism, undermining public trust in news reporting and news services and platforms in general.

If we imagine a news portal based on blockchain technology, it automatically means that it can take full advantage of it. And it is not just about a new level of transparency and security through a distributed registry but also about new ways of monetization. The ongoing struggle in many countries between big players such as Facebook and Google and governments that want to protect the rights of authors of text, video and other content is a clear indication that monetization is becoming an increasingly important issue.

How can the author of a news article, for example, get paid fairly when such giants as Facebook and Google freely post it on their resources while paying no compensation to the author? Putting the news on a blockchain portal, on the other hand, would allow a payment system to be set up for anyone who wants to read the articles, and payment could be made either through non-cash payments from bank cards or from the platform’s own tokens.

In the end, the combination of blockchain technology and the digital economy could be the basis for an independent, free press platform with journalists and users on an equal footing, without intermediaries.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Arsenii Tretiakov is the head of public relations at the Distributed Ledger Technologies Center of St. Petersburg State University. He is researching computer-based methods to detect fake news as a Ph.D. student in media studies at the University Carlos III of Madrid.

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