Fixing the News: Blockchain-Powered Solutions for Media in Crisis

Editor’s Note: Does blockchain technology offer a potential solution to often misleading, censorial, and even fraudulent corporate news media that plagues the Western world? As the author notes in his conclusion, such projects may seem far-fetched at present, yet it was not that long ago that few believed Wikipedia would ever gain traction. Today’s real news and analyses are coming from citizen journalists who remain vulnerable to YouTube, Google, and social media gatekeepers. What if they were given the means to form their own “ecosystems” for news and commentary?

“Creating comprehensive community-powered marketplaces for production, distribution, and verification of news”

Kirill Bryanov
CoinTelegraph
(May 19, 2018)

In the US and around the world, quality journalism is going through difficult times. Against the backdrop of steadily declining trust in the mainstream press, systemic issues like the ever-intensifying political polarization of the media, proliferation of fake news, and asymmetric power relations between platforms and publishers, among others, stand in the way of the press striving to fulfill its crucial societal functions. The central role of the media in the society is, at least normatively, to provide the public with essential knowledge of the state of the world that would enable people to make informed choices. In a democracy, both institutional and social media are also supposed to facilitate an open arena for public discussion and deliberation where the wide array of voices and ideas are represented. However, the reality seems to be drifting away from this ideal in dramatic ways.

A longstanding critical tradition has an extensive list of claims to lay to the US media system’s structural deficiencies. Even in the pre-digital era, some scholars of communication were uneasy with the growing concentration of corporate ownership in media industries, seeing this trend as threatening the democratic process. Proponents of this intellectual current advocated for as wide a distribution of communication power as possible as a safeguard against power abuse at the hands of big corporate and state actors. The advent of digital news has seen yet another wave of similar criticisms, as it had soon become apparent that, contrary to early internet enthusiasts’ expectations, the new media ecosystem does not quite eliminate the disparities in communication power. Instead, it seemed to be reproducing the old patterns of power concentration, as well as giving rise to some new problematic trends.

Most of the contemporary media criticisms converge around one point: the digital news economy. The ad-based online business model often proves to be inadequate for sustaining certain forms of journalism that rely on specific and narrow audiences for financial backing. These forms happen to be the ones of social importance, like local news or investigative and issue reporting. Labelled the “attention economy,” the incentive system that social media news feeds have engendered rewards content that attracts eyeballs and generates clicks. Facebook and Google, which derive the bulk of their profits from selling targeted ads, have apparent reasons to stimulate as long user engagement with content as possible. Here’s where algorithmic newsfeeds come in handy, facilitating users’ selective exposure to content they will likely enjoy. Extrapolated to the political arena, this logic results in people getting locked up in ideological information bubbles, where partisan views become amplified and biases get confirmed. These bubbles also provide fertile soil for the spread of politically charged misinformation.

Aspiring media reformers have proposed multiple cures to these maladies. Among alternative models are philanthropic foundation-supported nonprofits, issue-specific donation-funded media outlets, and various forms of collaborative citizen journalism. Albeit sustainable in certain contexts, such solutions have so far failed to demonstrate flexibility and scalability needed to achieve any degree of mainstream adoption. Besides, these models mainly rely on goodwill of those people whose motivations are purely altruistic, which makes it difficult to ensure a steady flow of contributions.

A handful of blockchain-driven media startups that aspire to revolutionize the news economy are different in this important sense. They hope to not just draw in people longing for good journalism, but also provide them with economic incentives to contribute their efforts to sustaining the ecosystem for substantive news. Using the versatile incentive-building tools made available by crypto economy, combined with game-theoretic behavioral modelling and principles of decentralized governance, these projects aim at nothing less than creating comprehensive community-powered marketplaces for production, distribution, and verification of news.

A defining feature of each of these platforms is that they are all powered by the principles of the token economy. Unlike traditional fiat currencies or even a general-purpose cryptocurrency that could be used for any manner of transaction, crypto tokens are usually designed in a way that programmatically restricts the range of their uses to a certain set of roles and functions within a given system. Tokens therefore reflect the purposes and values of a certain platform, and can be used in order to align the economic interests of its individual users with the interests of the community at large. As a vehicle for transactions, such tokens are no longer a content-neutral instrument that simply enables transmission of information or value; rather, they entail the shared interests and values of those who subscribed to use them within a specific economic ecosystem.

Within the broader ecosystem of emerging blockchain-powered media startups, there is a wealth of platforms that use crypto-economic models to redefine the system of monetary exchanges between creators and consumers of information goods. The most common focus is on user-generated content and the ways in which regular folks in social media contexts are rewarded for their work: some examples include Steemit, Sapien, or Po.et, to name a few. The following review, however, focuses on a more specific set of projects, which explicitly address some problematic institutional aspects of the current news media system. As such, the projects in the list recognize the independent social value of news, and offer fixes that are designed to produce a better informed public.

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5 thoughts on “Fixing the News: Blockchain-Powered Solutions for Media in Crisis”

  1. Why ‘alas’? Alas means regrettably. I’ve noticed Americans misuse this word before. What do you guys think it means?

    1. Look, mister, I don’t know where you’re from, but around here, one’s opinion is not invalidated by one’s need for remedial English.

      I’m just kidding you, Nick Dean. It’s common knowledge that English is not the Editor’s problem.

      Though I haven’t noticed its general misusage, you’re right about the word alas in this instance, which seems to imply a reverse definition. Like it should have been hark. “Hark! The mighty blockchain!” Not only that, one could argue that the set of words proceeding from it may not even be a complete sentence.

      Either it was supposed to read,

      At last: potential solution to often misleading, censorial, and even fraudulent corporate news media.

      Kind of like a headline or I’m forced to the conclusion that the whole thing is part of a now-butchered construction that at one time completed its own thought, while making perfect use of the word alas.

      Alas. It could be that editing is the Editor’s problem.

  2. That’s a boatload to think about. From my POV… It’s so seldom I turn to corporate news nowadays since even the weather people are lying to us. I woke up in 2007 when a cab driver set off my alarm clock by saying 911 was an inside job. My reaction? “not another conspiracy theory”… Ben’s hackles went up like yellow perch squirming in your hand that draws blood… Ouch! If you fish you know what I’m talking about. I told him I would go home to take a look not ever thinking I could substantiate his claim, quite the contrary… I was determined to verify my own prejudice. Something quite extraordinary occurred. My first course of discovery came from the players’ own lips. I watched news conferences of Donald Rumsfeld saying the 2.3 trillion was missing , George Bush’s answer to a 10 year old boy’s question saying he saw the first plane crash on TV and Rudy saying he got warning the towers were about to collapse. I got the cold chill up the spine that Ben was right. Ben was my red pill. I couldn’t stop digging for months and months and months. I became a digger for the truth when before I had always accepted the News as reality. What I found is that citizen journos might not get it right but they are digging for the truth. Big Media makes no attempt at mining. They replaced on location reporting for panel show opinion slingers that never went there and act out the right/left debate like good little sock puppets. That’s why I call Big Media “the Mind Control Ministry” they program all you need to know, here’s your school shooting du jour, please be generous to the poor, they aren’t coming to disarm us, no they would never harm us, and what about above ground nuclear tests?, we survived their very best attempts, to kill us all in one fell swoop,…. or slowly one by one by one. They’ve got quiet weapons for silent war on humanity,… and travesty…. is no one seems to notice. There’s lines in the sky, no need to wonder why, just take your ambient tab and your flu shot jab.

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