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Can blockchain solve the fake news problem?

(C) iStock.com/IvelinRadkov

The issue of fake news has been rippling through the internet for a while now, reaching far and wide. In the last year, fake news stories have been connected to President Trump’s election victory and Facebook has rolled a new fact-checking system

Now blockchain startup Userfeeds is looking to fight fake news by developing a platform based on ‘reputation schemes’.

The Polish company wants to tackle what it believes is the underlying cause of the issue: the limited amount of attention that any one individual has at a given time.

The company also highlights the ongoing process of ‘unbundling’ which is shaping the evolution of the internet. Unbundling occurs when components that were previously tied together are separated and sold individually on the market.

With regards to the news media, this process can be illustrated clearly. Newspapers and magazines are bundles of paper and words and are governed by the economics of paper production, supply and distribution.

As co-founder and chief executive of Userfeed, Maciej Olpinski explains:

“With digital distribution of written words through the Web, the economics changed, and we got blogs, tweets along with entirely new business models. These business models were enabled by near zero cost of digital distribution.”

Userfeed are trying to unbundle algorithmic content ranking from Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Reputation schemes

Currently the ranking algorithms used by the large content gatekeepers are designed around the number of clicks rather than the validity of a particular story.

Driving engagement is a large chunk of Facebook’s business model.

Olpinski explains what Userfeed is attempting to do:

“Our vision for the future is based on open data layers and user-controlled identities with marketplaces of ranking algorithms on top of them.”

In practical terms this may mean something like letting different ranking providers compete for user attention instead of relying on a single algorithm. Newsfeeds that offer different views to one another would all be competing for the precious commodity of user attention.

While this approach could lead to further segregation of news and audiences in the short-term, Olpinski believes that in time new ranking methods that use business models other than advertisng would emerge.

This is where cryptocurrencies and blockchain enter the picture.

According to Olpinski, today’s algorithms are shaped by economic incentives and changing those incentives is important:

“Blockchains give us the open layer that is necessary for storing data relationships currently locked up in closed silos. Crypto-tokens make it possible to program incentives and design new reward structures for people’s behaviours.”

You can get more detail on the project here.

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