Why we all love good news

Image by Oscar Alonso Algote / Envisionpublicidad. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/envision/1531042930/

How to fight fake news, propaganda and censorship using blockchain technology

As you see formulating the right header and using the right image somehow got you to read this article. However, that has nothing to do with truth. Unfortunately mostly bad news attracts clicks, and the used images and oneliners will influence you. Wether you read the article or not.

This article is about ourselves. About how we might be able to filter information in todays media landscape. It is obvious we have to educate ourselves in judging information and see through influential use of words and images.

Most initiatives to fight fake news, propaganda and censorship have a focus on finding the truth. We’ve seen initiatives deriving truth from fact checking or public opinion, but we all know real truth does not exist. We also know that fact checking is essentially a task for good journalists, not for politicians, governments or general public. The latter was and is not the idea of free press.

So what is a proper way to fight fake news, propaganda and censorship? In this article I discuss the possibility of the creation of a public infrastructure with which the public can value stories based on the reputation and authenticity of the writers and publishers. Because once you know (for certain) who is sending the message, that’s it’s the original message and what messages he or she normally sends and which track record of research is normally used, you are able to value the story on its merits. That’s in my opinion as close you can get to the truth.

This is the era of pimped reputations, false news, propaganda and censorship. What if you are a quality newspaper or journalist and you want to distance yourself from this kind of reporting?

Well, you build on your credibility and trust. Credibility that is currently derived from branding and reputation, either corporate (newspaper, journal) or personal (journalist, reporter).

But here is the thing. Journalists can hide their worst or badly received stories and show off with their successes only. And, as they’ve become mostly digital, newspapers change stories on the go, originals are being lost. The mechanism of rectification is dead. Sometimes governments and corporations force newspapers to alter inconvenient content, and readers tuning in after the censorship took effect don’t have a clue. Meanwhile fake websites pretend they are a well known newspaper and post disconcerting articles. The public gets confused.

As media has more reach than ever, the evidence of the original content, the existence of rectifications and false copies have become less clear. This is actually opposite to what is needed in our current digital age: To reestablish trust between the media and the public.

More than ever we need to know the full curriculum of a reporter, pseudonymous writer or newspaper to judge their credibility and to value each individual story in the set. More than ever we need to know the full history of a specific article and we want to safeguard that no one can influence the contents afterwards without notifying the readers. Moreover readers should be able to trust the authenticity of a writer: Are they really who they claim to be?

At the same time journalists, reporters and newspapers need protection from outside pressure of censors. As they simply cannot undo or change anything registered in the blockchain themselves as well, they are protected by this immutable system. Rectifications are inevitable and sometimes necessary, but underhand or forced alterations are obnoxious and should be impossible.

The solution

We want to create a system in which journalist and newspapers can protect their works and increase their credibility and trust. Uncensored, immutable and irrefutable. Not to be compromised by anyone, not by governments nor criminals. Even not by themselves without us knowing it.

Public infrastructure

Public, which means permissionless access to participate, and also permissionless access to view. Irrevocable, there is no way a writer or company can withdraw their entries (avoiding blackmail and/or political pressure).

How can we build this?

Basics We are now for the first time in history in the unique position to be able to build an infrastructure like this using blockchain technology. We can use blockchain for Proof of Existence of articles and maintain a consistent identity of persons (pseudonymous as option) and journals.

Deep dive We need to research what exact technology (components) can best be used, how to handle practical hurdles like for instance newspaper paywalls. We need to research how to provide easy tools to check authenticity, etcetera. The system should be build in a way to prevent anyone to become susceptible to blackmail or bribery regarding the contents of their stories. All users should benefit and be free to use the system.

Readers Readers should be able to easily verify the author (or publisher) and his or her content. Think of a clickable signature or browser plugin.

Who are taking part in the discussion?

The idea is based on discussions held at Blockchain Lab Amsterdam (NL) and Vierde Vrijdag in The Hague (NL). It is submitted to SIDN Fonds and HCSS (The Hague Centre Strategic Studies) which both have fake news on top of their agenda. Although no research or funding is setup yet we had and have fruitful conversations. For instance with NUV (united Dutch publishers), NRC Media (Dutch dayly newspaper) and Slecht Nieuws (educational site in Dutch with a disturbing ‘how to make fake news’ wizard based on actual events).

If you think you can contribute to this mission, please send me a message. It is an open project.

Open project

As we do not want this kind of infrastructure to be commercially exploited. It should be permissionless to use, free to join, free to leave, and transparent for all parties, and of course immutable and uncensorable as we mentioned before.

Therefore the project is to be open source and open to companies and professionals to contribute to. The project should never come under any form of centralised power.

Recap

This open project is an unique initiative to create a public infrastructure that enables writers and publishers to secure their content on a public blockchain so that both authenticity and origin are guaranteed. Reputation and trustworthiness make that readers are able to judge and value the stories on the two single most important facts: who is the sender and what is his or her reputation.

Recent events

NRC featured an article which compared ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) to NSDAP events in the 30ies.

https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/10/14/een-meute-een-beat-een-dj-13463156-a1577234

This article (16/10/2017) was removed by the editor because of its content and/or first reactions after being published for a few hours.

Later on (more than a week 25/10/2017) it is made public again for archival reasons.

Read the comments on this and other rectifications (in Dutch):

https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/10/21/techno-nazis-youp-en-twee-heel-verschillende-ingrepen-13554964-a1578102)

In addition both the EU and the Dutch parliament (Minister Ollongren) are setting up task forces to fight fake news. As this is undermining democracy as much as fake news itself does, we have to come up with something better.

We reached out to both D66 (Ollongren’s political party) and Minister Ollongren herself, but sofar no reaction. We would be happy to start the conversation.

Join forces

Drop me a note if you feel like contributing. https://twitter.com/bvanmaarseveen

Bart van Maarseveen

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They come in pairs. Privacy & Freedom, Blockchain & Open Source. A free & better society starts with your business, let's make a difference!

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