Can We Use Blockchain to Thwart Fake News?

J. Marcus

Summary Bullets:

  • Digital media faces a ‘fake news’ problem where sources may be biased or worse, and actual content may be manipulated.
  • Orange is behind Safe.press, a blockchain-based consortium for certifying news sources as legitimate – and not ‘fake.’

As investigative journalists and whistleblowers struggle to be heard in calling out the rampant abuse of social networks in propagating ‘fake news,’ one startup is trying to tackle the issue with new technology.

‘Solving’ the problem of fake news is a necessity, but pretty much no one knows where to start. Imposing regulations on social media platforms, or even having Facebook broken up (as was suggested last week by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in The New York Times), is a political and policy challenge that could take years. But, by taking a technology approach, French startup Block Expert and its first big backer, Orange, are looking for a more pragmatic solution.

Orange has become the inaugural member of the new Safe.press platform for mutual authentication of online news, based on blockchain technology. This consortium-based certification system, which is immediately recognizable by the green ‘safe.press’ badge, was developed by Block Expert and is the first of its kind.

According to Orange, the telco giant has become the first company in the world to display on its webpages a blockchain-secured digital trust label that allows one-click verification of the authenticity and source of online content broadcast to the media in real time. For example, all press releases published by Orange are verifiable in the press room on orange.com by clicking on the green ‘safe.press’ badge. Publishers of legitimate news can join Safe.press to make sure both media outlets and individual readers can trust content appearing in their name.

Safe.press is based on a shared registry that saves news in its blockchain ledger, which is safely hosted by all members of the consortium. This provides each news item with a unique digital footprint which is tamper-proof, protecting intellectual property from digital manipulation of the content. Developed by Block Expert, which specializes in decentralized applications and claims expertise in blockchain technologies like Ethereum, Hyperledger, and Stellar, Safe.press could prove to be a winning formula for sorting out fact-based content from biased news and outright propaganda. By authenticating media content at its source, the model could obviate the need for a blockchain-based Facebook alternative, another approach to the fake news problem that has recently been suggested.

Using blockchain for securing the identity of documents isn’t new. Financial services firms and governments are already using it for digital authentication, enabling secure identity and data privacy, so why not other digital content like news? The question is one of incentive. Banks and tax authorities have fiscal imperatives in any digital platform they deploy. Media does too, but its incentives come from clicks and engagement, not security, and its integrity has never depended on 100% accuracy in every piece of content (indeed, accuracy is often sacrificed for speed; corrections or retractions can always be published later).

Does fake news have to become an even bigger problem before the incentives for publishers, journalists, and readers become significant enough to adopt digital trust labels like Safe.press? While policymakers take their time batting around potential regulations, tech-driven approaches like Safe.press will be there, ready, when the tipping point arrives.

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