Could Blockchain help solve the fake news crisis?

Pedro Jesús González

12 April 2018

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Blockchain is a technology poised to transform the way in which goods and services are exchanged over the internet. Last Summer, we produced a study which analysed the different business uses for blockchain, how it can be used to generate new business models or improve the efficiency of existing models. In this article, we discuss our new blockchain-based solution for WordPress and the problems that have arisen around authorship online. But first, what exactly is blockchain, and how does it work?


In blockchain we trust

Typically, whatever is said or done online is being recorded and stored in a database owned by a private organisation like Google, Santander or Amazon. With blockchain, these conversations and actions are instead ‘recorded’ and stored across multiple different databases that don’t belong to any one person or corporate entity, but to the users themselves. For example, if you bank with Santander then all your savings will have been recorded in a privately owned database somewhere. If something goes wrong and the database tells Santander that all those savings have dissipated, then it’s your word against theirs. With a blockchain based banking service, hundreds of different databases will have a record of that same data, and so even if one database becomes corrupted a record of your savings will still exist.


Applications for blockchain

Blockchain is booming. More and more brands and businesses are turning to blockchain-based solutions to help them solve a whole host of issues from electronic voting, to cloud storage, to payment of employees.

An issue has recently been the centre of much controversy, is proof of authorship. In recent months ‘Fake News’ has been blamed for everything from growing mistrust in immunisation to the election of US President Donald J. Trump. In 2013, Matt Cutts, former head of Spam at Google, estimated that roughly 25-30% of all online content was made up of duplicated material. Plagiarism is no longer as labour-intensive as is once was; it’s not hard to just copy and paste. Blockchain-based solutions have been utilised in a number of different industries such as advertising, utilities, entertainment and banking. However, if we take a look at the website creation and management industry as a whole, it’s clear that very few solutions have been developed for the benefit of the publishing industry.


The problem: Open Authorship

Most scientific researchers would be none too happy to discover they hadn’t been credited for a piece of work they’d invested months, years, maybe even decades in. In May 2015, a high energy physics paper accredited to over 5,000 different authors was published on APS Physics. Nine of the article’s 33 pages were dedicated to the listing of these authors. Following this, a countrywide conversation about ‘hyperauthorship’ ensued.  

Most would acknowledge the value in working to continuously improve the quality and the quantity of scientific research being conducted at any given time. Crowdsourced solutions have proven both useful and profitable in the field of education, car manufacturing and business (most of the so-called “collaborative economy” companies that have cropped up are based on crowdsourced resources). So why not crowdsource academic research? 5,000 authors might be a little excessive, but surely making a truly positive impact on society is worth taking the back seat? Maybe not.

Not only does full credit look good, authorship matters. If we know the real author, we know who to hold accountable for ideas and opinions presented. So how do we ensure a fair and more accurate system of accreditation for authors sharing their content on the internet? At Good Rebels, we felt that blockchain could help to address the problem of open authorship and lack of accountability online, and this month we have enabled a blockchain-based stamping plugin for WordPress.


The solution: Blockchain for WordPress

Of the more than 200 million active websites around the world, WordPress powers an astonishing 30% of them. Despite this, there are only 29 WordPress plugins worldwide that offer blockchain-based value for publishers, and most of them are focused on monetisation. Perhaps we’ve failed to pay WordPress the attention it deserves as the battle over content authorship rages on.

As it’s so extremely difficult to ensure accurate accreditation on the internet, identify fake news or detect content that has been duplicated without the help of crawling systems; Good Rebels wanted to offer publishers an independent, free, and blockchain-based solution which would provide authors with a time-stamp proof of publishing which could then be applied to any piece of content at any given time. While this cannot be taken as proof of authorship, it does determine when a piece of material was first made public. Once installed, the plugin can be programmed to stamp the content on one to three different blockchains. Authors can apply hundreds of independent ‘confirmation of publication’ stamps to their work using the Good Rebels plugin.  


Credit where credit is due

The content authorship WordPress plugin for digitally published content we’ve developed won’t solve the problem of fake news, accreditation or plagiarism on the internet. At least not entirely. However, it’s clear that blockchain will be an important tool for ensuring the authenticity of online content in the future, something we may come to rely on in the age of fake news.

Get the WordPress Blockchain plugin for free for your website and start stamping your content on Bitcoin or Ethereum.