How Can Blockchain Stop Fake News?

With inputs from Aritra Sarkhel

Ritesh, a 35 year old advertising executive, residing in the suburbs of Mumbai was having dinner when the phone rang. His mother asked him whether the vaccine she is going to take this week is fake or real, will she have health issues like blood clots, weakness in her legs. Ritesh was taken aback. He asked his mum for the source of this information. She shared a message from a local messaging group where this information was given. Ritesh squashed off her fears. This was her introduction to Fake News. This is not a one-off example. According to a report by Stanford Internet Observatory, a fake news campaign promoting Saudi alliance and misinformation against Turkish & Qatari leaders was being run. The report stated that over 36 million tweets were generated and eventually Twitter took down around 5350 accounts amplifying the same while Facebook closed down around 164 pages and 76 Instagram accounts. Closer home, people have died to the spread of Fake News on messaging platforms. And numbers do not lie. Look at the stats from a report by Cheq and The University of Baltimore in 2019. 

In the third quarter of 2020, Facebook reported 1.8 billion fake news engagements on its platform. Fake news is costing almost $80 billion a year globally. The financial industry incurred losses worth $17 billion, and health industry losses were $9 billion due to fake news. Media and social media companies are fighting all across the world against fake news using various means.

Mohd Nadeem Siddiqui, fact-checker, Social Media Hoax Slayer pointed out that they use Invid, reverse image search, and Yandex to fight fake news.“ Identifying and validating the authenticity of any information requires a team of journalists who can unearth the source of news and data. Hence, connecting with regional media and community radio updates is inevitable. ”But there is another technology which is the basis of every other virtual currency out there in the world which can possibly look to solve fake News. Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology that includes a chain of devices (nodes) that collectively record and store files. Here every node acts independently and averts any kind of alteration of information. Hence, this technology has the potential to streamline the existing cluttered content. 

The spread of misinformation has been booming across social media platforms. The existing technology and artificial intelligence (AI) tools have failed to reduce this threat efficiently. Blockchain technology uses an unalterable book of databases that can constantly identify and re-identify the authenticity of any news product or document on a real-time basis. The democratised technology can also help to verify the origin of any information or misinformation. One of the most well-known use cases of blockchain is to power transactions of digital currency. But blockchain technology has the potential to offer public validation as a transparent software platform that can manage not just financial records but all forms of digital content. Blockchain Papers connected with technology experts and fact-checkers for a fair understanding of existing tech tools and blockchain in the content segment.

Jason Weller, Founder of US-based blockchain retail solution firm Magicbean pointed out that a blockchain cannot report the news. It is a public ledger. “Blockchain systems can exist as an arbiter of news. It has the ability to fact-check in a decentralised manner.”

Covadonga Fernandez, Director of Observatorio Blockchain, believes that blockchain is yet to be used effectively in avoiding fake news. “The Italian news agency Ansa, launched a system on the Ethereum blockchain to verify the traceability of the information, in collaboration with Ernst & Young.” The Madrid-based blockchain analyst expects that in the future when web 3.0 based on blockchain web is more widely accepted, it would be easier to identify accurate data. Today, the traceability of news can be verified from the source, but the problem lies at the source. That means the news is false from its origin. Thus, blockchain technology can be used to identify those who are responsible for fake news because everything is traceable in the public ledger. 

Furthermore, Alexis Texeiro, blockchain technology and cybersecurity expert based out of Spain, stated that news facts validation can work in a blockchain environment as data can be validated in a decentralized manner by nodes across the world. “Decentralised technology-powered solutions can verify information and news. By utilizing blockchain, stakeholders can enable peer-to-peer transactions of news between publishers and readers.”

Rajneil Kamath, founder, Newschecker, and former Google public policy member, believes that AI tools play a minute role when it comes to fact-checking. Misinformation can spread on social media through pictures, videos, fake narratives, and biased or half-baked information. “Blockchain platforms could help readers and publishers to identify validated information by providing trust score.” 

Kritika Goel, head of the fact-checking team at The Quint, believes that disinformation is an unavoidable problem that could harm the social fabric of any country. Whether it is about US elections in 2016 or the current Afghan crisis, third-party fact-checkers have been offering their services to social media platforms to label any false news. Verification of news or information takes time in the range of hours to days, which depends on the nature of the disinformation. 

Even during the second wave of the COVID-19 virus, misinformation that made rounds on social media cost many lives. Available tech tools are not enough to debunk fake news timely. Blockchain could reduce the time taken to uncover disinformation and authenticate the origin of news and make it nearly impossible to fudge news data that is listed on a public ledger.

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