Jitendra Rathod, newsletter contributing editor, provides insights into how blockchain can help combat fake news.
Fake news, as we now understand it in our post-truth society, is actually not a thing born in the twenty-first century. It dates rather far back. To give you an idea of it being as old as history, consider the following example. In the first century BC, a campaign was run against Mark Antony by Octavian in order to discredit his reputation for political purposes, by representing him as a drunkard and a womanizer. He went as far as publishing a forged will, to give air to the misinformation which ultimately outraged the Roman population against Antony.
After this historical reminder of the implications of fake news, let us now come back to our own digital age, where spreading rumors and lies for manipulation on a mass level is much easier than it was in those times. Fake news is too dangerous a malady to be ignored. As it has become easier with digital news for such misinformed contents to flow unhindered, fake news is not only limited to the complex world of social networking but has made its way into mainstream journalism as well. Once propagated, the damage it can cause is nothing which can be taken with a good-humored laugh; its implications being dreadful: tarnished reputations, political manipulations, and sensational tumults.
However, is the problem of fake news really that intense? Has it managed to affect our world on a horrendous scale? Is its power exaggerated?
5 Instances Proving How Fake News Can Have Devastating Consequences
- India is battling worse with fake news since the country does not have a policy for media verification. As a result, fake news circulated on social media platforms like WhatsApp often result in mob lynchings. On the political field too, fake news makes the country suffer; oftentimes images and video clips from Syrian and Iraqi civil wars are made to pass off as from the Kashmir conflict, contributing to the rise of unrest and insurgency.
- A study of web traffic in the United States before elections, conducted by Professor Philip N. Howard at the University of Oxford revealed that around one half of all the news on Twitter about Michigan was fake. Facebook too was flooded with fake news before the U.S. presidential election, no doubt becoming a strong determining factor.
- Fake news carries in itself the potential to lead countries into war against each other, no joke. In 2016, after a fake news spread of Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Ministry of Defense saying that if Pakistan sent its troops to Syria, Israel would nuke the country; Pakistan’s Minister of Defence retorted on Twitter, with a threat to nuke Israel in return.
- Fake news can be used as a weapon to target minorities as well. It has happened in Myanmar, where fraudulent stories regarding Rohingyas led to a rise in violence against Muslims in the country.
- In 1996, in consequence of fake news, Western Wall Tunnel riots resulted in the loss of human lives.
We have now seen all the wreck fake news is capable of causing and more. From riots to insurgencies, to bilateral hostilities, to political manipulation, to violence against minorities, the implications of fake news are far greater than calculated. What then must be done to combat it?
Fighting Fake News the Blockchain Way
States have often tried to find a solution to the threat imposed by fake news. For instance, Russia passed a bill in March 2019, for banning websites from publishing fake news. However, due to the immense number of factors playing in our digital age, it is very difficult to fetter fraudulent misinformation from spreading wide. The problem demands a modern solution; and what, if not blockchain?
An example of the possibilities of using blockchain against fake news is set by the media giant New York Times. Their News Provenance Project plans to use distributed ledger technology for verifying the news source and detecting if the news has been subject to any change. The leader of the project, Sasha Koren, maintained that blockchain holds the key to ending the nuisance of fake news.
Other institutions have been taking the same path as well; like the French telecom company Orange, which, even before NPP, signed up with safe.press solution to combat fake news through blockchain. It aims at presenting to the users the authentic source of a press release.
Both these projects are not very dissimilar in their objectives as well as their modus operandi. Both have sought the innovative solution to combat fake news the blockchain way. However, would it really help?
Parting Words: Is Blockchain Capable of Delivering a Final Blow to Fake News?
If the states and regulatory authorities have failed to successfully tackle fake news in the present times, it is because of the innumerable sources from which it springs, and an almost Herculean effort that is required to check them all.
We have already seen that fake news is not something that the modern age has given birth to. However, we should also not fail to admit that modern fake news and its consequences are far dire in the digital age than it used to be in the past. Fake news today is capable of not only culminating hatred and targeting groups but also of determining (and consequently compromising) state elections. Therefore, the problem of modern fake news requires a modern solution.
In this sense, the steps taken by institutions such as the New York Times are not only innovative and noble but also carry in themselves the potential to have a far-reaching impact on curbing fake news, which manually would not have been possible. Only a technology like blockchain can handle a problem of such high numbers and thus prevent many damages from being done. Thus, it is fair to conclude that blockchain, in the future, would stand a firm combatant against fake news.