60% of consumers globally believe that the media they consume is contaminated with untrustworthy information.
That shocking figure, via the Edelman Trust Barometer, is as stark an indication as any as to how the ability of bad actors to manipulate news online has led to a complete breakdown in trust.
While the damage caused by this breakdown is clear when it comes to politics, the loss of trust also affects corporate communications where fake news stories can affect a company’s stock prices as well as consumer faith in the company and the ability of the government to properly regulate industry.
That’s why a recent announcement from Verizon that the company will be implementing a blockchain-verified record of changes to its public communications has wide-reaching ramifications that go well beyond the output of an American telecommunications company. The open-source blockchain technology was developed by MadNetwork in partnership with AdLedger and Huge.
There’s a lot of good news to unpack here, the first piece being that the technology involved is easily implemented on a broader scale. The initiative, known as “Full Transparency” relies on a blockchain based open-source newsroom product that logs and records any changes made to a story as it makes its way around the internet
For those unfamiliar with the ways of the troll, one of the things they will do is to take a story and (without permission) post it on a website they control, using the same headlines and attribution, but they will change one or more key aspects of the story to create fake news. The average reader has no way to know this has happened, especially if they encounter the story on social media, where clicking on the link brings up a legitimate seeming web page that lives inside the social media platforms wrapper.
This is one of the more effective ways that fake news is spread.
With the new Full Transparency product, someone clicking on an altered link would be able to see that the story had been changed from the original and just what those changes were, thus alerting them to the fact that they were looking at fake news. It might even get them to pay more attention to the source of that news, to realize that despite the legitimate sounding name, the website was put up by trolls and was designed to spread misinformation and undermine trust in authority and government.
It’s a different sort of use case for blockchain technology which is associated with Bitcoin in the popular imagination. But the ability to secure everything from monetary transactions to website content is one of blockchain’s greatest assets.
“Blockchain has long been associated with cryptocurrency, but that is just the beginning of what it can do,” said Adam Helfgott, Founder at MadNetwork. “Verizon’s visionary Full Transparency product will allow us to offer proof that blockchain is ready to be a critical part of enterprise software at scale, providing validation and authentication in the digital world.”
The potential power of Full Transparency as a way to secure news stories has not been lost on Verizon either.
“As a technology and media company that quite literally connects people to information, we felt an obligation to bring Full Transparency to market—a product that, in its own quiet way, can help restore corporate accountability and trust,” said Diego Scotti, Chief Marketing Officer for Verizon. “In the future, we hope to bring together organizations across the world that prize transparency as much as we do to adopt blockchain-verified communication practices.”
The key here will be to figure out ways to continually evolve the Full Transparency product as bad actors online will continually evolve their efforts to find a way around it.
This will especially be the case if more companies adopt Full Transparency as a way to safeguard their corporate communications and if newsrooms and social media outlets follow suit and begin to adopt it or similar blockchain-based transparency initiatives.
Demand for these sorts of safeguards should be high as it is in everyone’s interests to restore trust and accountability to the news. This is true on a macro level, where the rapid spread of false information means that many people automatically assume that all information they see online has a high probability of being untrue.This then leads them to automatically reject anything that does not align with their worldview (confirmation bias) and creates deeper rifts and divisions in our society.
While Full Transparency will not be able to restore civility and respect for and trust in news on its own, it can play an important role in moving us in that direction, providing an easy way to confirm the veracity of news stories wherever they may appear. Kudos to Verizon for taking this important first step.