Fighting fake news on the blockchain

Lately, the Internet has become a battleground for the press. An American president who claims everything said about him is “fake news” and who labels journalists as “enemies of the people” hasn’t helped the situation either. But, newspapers and magazines are challenged on a daily basis to keep their product, affordable, accessible and accurate, and still make enough money to keep publishing.

Some of the problem lies with free content. A publication without a paywall may have to use more sponsored content, or content with a bias that hasn’t been thoroughly fact-checked. Social media has made it worse by enabling users to share untrustworthy sources due to the fact that many are taken in by the fact the item has appeared on social media and therefore must be right. It is as though we have lost our ability to discern what is probably real and what is not, even though we have learnt that many of the posts likely to inflame bigotry etc are often paid for by well-funded organisations that want to sow disharmony.

Now along comes Civil – a startup platform “where independent newsrooms can foster direct relationships with their readers, who can have a real stake — in the form of cryptocurrency — in supporting publications they trust.”

The Brooklyn-based project received some funding from blockchain platform ConSensys and has 24 staff members and a token sale launching on 13th August. Of course, many people want to know exactly how Civil will work.

Victor Tangemann, writing for futurism.com explains it: “Every community member (readers and journalists) gets to invest some of their real-life money to buy a certain number of Civil tokens. If readers think a particular newsroom is unethical in some way, they can “challenge” it (details of the exact process are still unclear). Anyone with Civil tokens gets to vote on what they think is the right or “ethical” side by gambling their Civil tokens towards it. Betters in the majority get rewarded with more tokens; those in the minority won’t, unless they themselves challenged a newsroom.”

Sounds complicated? It probably needs to be tried and tested to find out just how well it works. There are also plans to enable Civil token holders to pay/tip journalists via smart contracts, “to set up a transparent kickback system for writers, editors, and illustrators that readers want to support.”

Essentially, Civil wants the most deserving news sources on its platform and is also setting up a Constitution that outlines its journalistic standards in detail and there will be a Civil Council made up of eminent journalism professionals.

It also says that “rogue actors like alt-right sources” will be easy to spot, even if they try buying up tokens in an attempt to discredit reliable news sources. Plus Civil’s extremely rigorous and lengthy registration process is proving tough for many journalists to pass through and it says each member’s information, though made anonymous, still makes it possible to trace them if they engage in anomalous behaviour on the site.

Tangemann says: “If this works the way Civil thinks it might, everyone wins: journalists and newsrooms would be able to support themselves and move away from a business model that relies on capricious ad revenue; readers can have confidence in what they read because they’ve voted with their wallets to support only the good stuff.”

Interesting projects are increasingly happening on the blockchain and demonstrating its ability to change the way we do lots of different things.




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