Blockchain-Based Startups Empower Individuals to Identify Fake NewsBy Sep 11, 2019 3 Min Read
Blockchain-Based Startups Empower Individuals to Identify Fake News
Back in 2017, a man named James McDaniel confessed that he had created a fake news website to test how gullible Internet readers could be. “As I continued to write ridiculous things they just kept getting shared and I kept drawing more viewers,” he told Politifact. In under two weeks, more than 1 million people had viewed and shared his inventions on social platforms, contributing to the vast spread of misinformation that characterized the 2016 US presidential election.
US citizens haven’t been the only ones affected by fake news. It’s been widely documented that misinformation also played a role in the UK Brexit vote and the 2018 Brazilian elections , which is why individuals, organizations, and governments around the world are starting to pay close attention to what’s true—and what’s not.
Cracking Down on Clickbait
Enter tech startups like Blackbird.AI , a San-Francisco-based company that seeks to ensure content is truthful and credible. Misinformation, the founders explain on their Medium page , “creates a cause and effect that will change everything from a political election to a social belief system.”
They seek to empower publishers, campaigns, businesses, governments, and citizens to catch fake news before it has a chance to take off. Their strategy: to introduce labels that evaluate content based on “credibility signals” such as who the author is, how the content was funded, and its ad quality score.
The labeling system is like a nutrition label for news, meaning that it allows readers to quickly and accurately evaluate how trustworthy a piece of online content is. By quickly helping people figure out what’s trustworthy and what’s not, it may cut down on the sharing and clicking on of false but shocking headlines.
To assign each piece of content a label, Blackbird.AI uses artificial intelligence to analyze millions of articles, track patterns, and classify news based on the credibility signals. Their technology scans articles, references, websites, social media pages, and memes—all in real-time. And, once the content is verified, it’s inscribed into the blockchain ledger for eternity.
Startups aren’t the only ones putting trust in the blockchain. Established publishers like the New York Times, for instance, are experimenting with blockchain as a way to validate their online content.
Their research and development team is planning to use Hyperledger Fabric’s permissioned blockchain to store important information about where the photo was taken, who the photographer was, and details about how it was edited.
Even social media sites are trying to do their part, as they should: 68% of Americans rely on them for their daily news. Google is debuting new fact-checking tools and promoting high-quality content, as well as donating a lot of money to global initiatives that help kids tell the difference between real and fake or misleading news. And Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have all removed huge numbers of bogus accounts from their platforms.
But according to Civil, another blockchain-based news startup, still just 23% of people say trust news on social media, which means that it might be up to the blockchain disruptors to reform the system entirely.
There’s a rising wave of support for exactly that. Rather than scoff at their efforts, traditional, well-known publishers are giving a nod to what these startups are doing. “As the footprint of traditional newspapers is shrinking,” CBS News notes, “Civil's is growing.”
The Columbia Journalism Review chimes in: “[Creating a new form of money] has the potential to help realign the incentives that underlie the journalism business.”
It’s true that the fight against misinformation has only just begun. Hackers and writers of fake news steadily evolve their tactics, and nothing beats good old critical thinking. As fake-news writer James McDaniel notes, visible disclaimers on his web pages explaining that his posts were “fiction, and presumably fake news” went largely unnoticed and unread by the millions who shared them.
Yet with startups like Blackbird.AI and Civil making it easier for Internet readers to identify and discount fake and misleading content, there’s hope for the future.
As Civil puts it: “You’ll have access to the news you need and can trust what you read.”