Rethinking Media With Blockchain

21 December, 2017
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Trust towards media has fallen to an all-time low. Whether it is in the USA, in Ireland, Colombia or other countries the global sentiment is increasingly negative and raises serious pessimism about the future of media.

The extremely rapid pace of innovation has offered unprecedented technological advancements and radically changed the way we interact with the world. Readers have access to information anytime, anywhere, while authors and journalists enjoy a more convenient publishing experience. In the ever-growing cascade of information created every day, one can find a massive number of digital articles, news, and stories issued from myriad of media platforms.

The increase in clickbaits and other malwares deteriorated the environment, while the quality level of the diffused contents has suffered. Quality and authenticity are highly challenged, especially on social media platforms that act like spiders on the web broadcasting all kind of unfiltered information. In order to increase traffic, editors are pushed to relentlessly post new articles, often leading to the creation of poor contents devoid of substance. Facebook and Google are being utilized as major platforms to spread misinformation, creating a vicious circle where data comes first, facts second. With the current revenue model incentivizing volume over quality, the whole industry is heading in the wrong direction, ultimately affecting readers’ visibility and understanding. These different factors boils down to a conclusion, the economic model of the Internet is broken.

Blockchain technology has been raising a lot of hype and interest from governments and financial institutions. One of the reason lies in the bitcoin rally,but most importantly in the underlying nature of blockchain technology and its unique ability to install trust without having to go through costly central intermediary. To rebuild trust in the system, we must step outside our comfort zone and work toward new decentralized models that have the potential to reshape media at different levels:

Disintermediation

Having to rely on intermediaries implicitly means trusting them for handling our writings, our identity and the revenue we generate from all the data and activity we create. As of today the choice of trusting leaders in the field seems to be the most rational one, however those intermediaries are not accountable for their actions and often maintain a significant opacity with their users. Intermediaries control our data and often determine or change the rules upon arbitrary decision. Most of this companies and third party intermediaries are operating for profit without proper mechanism of wealth redistribution, or very often none at all. It is currently hard to trust each other without allowing someone else to make money on the back of our own data.

Utilizing a blockchain framework allows trust not to be maintained by unknown third party intermediaries, but instead by the power of a consensus distributing trust among participants and removing single point of failures. Blockchain and distributed ledger bring people together and remove the need for having to trust someone or an entity for managing our assets or content. The technology itself secure our transactions and constructs a network of participants that have control over their data and assets without being in control of the network itself.

Fake News & Reputation

Fake news and other alternative facts recently got a lot of traction, especially since the undeniable influences they had on the Brexit or the latest US elections. Fake news create tension by constantly challenging our understanding of what is really happening around us, making us doubt about the veracity of facts. Misinformation spreads in all places with the purpose of influencing people for instance to follow certain political stances or opinions, or simply to generate traffic. Nowadays a significant amount of articles and time are spent on debunking fake news related to political stories and other conspiracy theories. Honest and talented authors are being tempted to publish engaging articles as a consequence of the pressure placed on them by fake news, and feel entitled to intensify their arguments in order to tip the balance back.

Accessing highly advanced advertising placement options is common practice, but offering a mechanism that helps to detect and combat fake news seems far down on digital media providers’ priority list. Some Initiatives like trust indicators managed by Facebook provide more information about how a story was reported, however it requires to trust a third party for managing the selection of a significant number of publishers or journalists to fact check articles. Privately managed fact checking teams should be as impartial and transparent as possible. Fact checking every content published isn’t realistic but giving the right to a free community founded on transparent criterias to determine the veracity and quality of the content is a way to remove impartiality and biased decision making processes.

Never compromise integrity! Wise advise every author or social media user needs to follow. Reputation is our most valuable asset, and deserves to be managed well. Blockchain is transforming our approach toward reputation because of the traceability aspect it introduces. In a blockchain network, you can’t erase what has been done, and you can locate data at anytime with the guarantee that no one tampered with it. With blockchain, reputation becomes lifetime and immutable. Whatever you do well or wrong stays recorded forever. Setting a remuneration mechanism based on an independently constructed reputation is the most efficient way to incentivize people to focus on the creation of quality instead of volume. The feedbacks of the readers need to be valued not only to give an overview of an author’s popularity but also to tell us about the quality and serious of his published articles. The fact that blockchain is immutable solves problems but also create the opportunity to make authors truly accountable for their actions.

Building a lifetime reputation that is traceable and transparent on the blockchain offers a way to perform accurate democratized rewarding using smart contracts. Blockchain empowers readers by giving them the opportunity to independently shape authors’ reputations through their feedback, whether they are positive or negative (flags) in case of fake news or discriminatory content.

Wealth Distribution

The digital advertising market boosted by higher Internet & Smartphone penetration is currently worth $250 billion. This market is dominated by players such as Google and Facebook that are supposed to develop strong internal ethic controls but the current dependency of the publishing and reader community on commercial media outlets remains unhealthy for authors.

Smart contracts have the ability to eliminate the need for intermediaries, as well as the hassle of executing manual transactions. Relying on smart contracts to automate the dissemination of wealth transparently, and depending on predetermined criterias like reputation or participation may set a robust ground for a fair remuneration mechanism. Advertisers may be proposed to target their customers but at the same time participate in helping to sustain a platform and reward the most appreciated authors. The smart contract capabilities protect the movement of funds that cannot be counterfeited, reversed arbitrarily or corrupted by any intermediary. A significant advantage of adopting a blockchain-based remuneration workflow is in the increased traceability that it provides. Transactions are recorded in an unfalsifiable ledger powered by a large computer network that anyone is free to join.

An innovative use of blockchain technology brings back trust into media and offers a unique opportunity to create a democratic merit-based rewarding mechanism for content creators. Monetizing a content, setting a price, conditions and a timeline is also conceivable through the creation of smart contracts, which will ultimately become as easy as setting up a profile on social medias.

Reading Experience

“Information wants to be free”, said Steward Brand, it actually does more than ever since we can easily have access to most of the information for free on social medias. Making information free means having to find a way to protect readers from poor content, and at the same time find an economic model that is fairly sustainable on the long term. Donation driven models courageously tackle certain issues related to wealth allocation but does not convince the mass to get on board as authors have to face the reality of the current economic model incentivizing traffic.

The reader, potentially the most influential among all the participants of a blockchain-enabled ecosystem, will experience the benefits of a blockchain adoption. Blockchain prevents any party from altering the legitimacy of the information being posted, thereby providing more confidence to the reader in reading a piece that is cryptographically protected. The greater transparency brought to media will allow readers to be better informed and access to more traceable records built all along the entire journey of an author on a platform.

Intellectual Property

The inherent transparency of a blockchain network becomes essential for bringing confidence in sharing more relevant information. The distributed ledger technology and the issuance of a unique digitally authorized ID, bring the opportunity to streamline and optimise identity. The blockchain could be the shared source of truth and workflow engine to automate the process and provide cryptographic security.

Intellectual property have the advantage to be sealed forever in a blockchain infrastructure. Indeed a digital fingerprint can be quickly found and identified in case of potential plagiarism. However blockchain itself is not the panacea. A community must participate in intervening and raising warnings whenever doubts are raised about the nature of an article. Artificial intelligence also comes in as Machine learning algorithm have the intelligence to recognize topics and writings styles in an instant. Combining the blockchain traceability and cryptographic technique to the speed of analysis of Machine learning algorithms as well as a community management to protect IP rights discourage counterfeits.

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The blockchain has the ability to restore the balance of power by empowering authors and readers with the right to be free in expressing their minds, and to be judged and rewarded by the people. The blockchain immutability and traceability are seen as key functional attributes for improving efficiency in the media ecosystem of tracking the change in reputation and remuneration. There is no silver bullet to solve all the issues around the media industry or eradicating disinformation, but harnessing the power of blockchain to build a safe ecosystem where trust is maintained by a community powered and assisted by a decentralized technology will certainly force most of us to rethink our ecosystems. A blockchain-powered media platform would have the ultimate advantage of making the biggest digital media providers to review their economic model and to get out of their comfort zone.