Since the 2016 US election, the debate over valid news coverage has heated up. People quarrel over each-other news’ sources, often by calling out the now-famous terms like “fake news”. Numerous news reporters blend facts with their opinions, thereby providing a biased coverage. What’s more, even social media giants are involved in this, as they provide a platform for fake news, just like other information, to propagate towards a wider audience. Recently, there have been a few fact-checking mechanisms that are being tested, but the question whether they’d be effective remains largely unanswered.
This also has to do with the core infrastructure of the Internet. As should be obvious, most of the content of the Internet is monetized via the ad-revenue model, which often ends up using one’s personal data for targeted ads. Again, those who want to spend biased ‘information’ can do so on social media by using this personal data. Indeed, there is no incentive for verifying information enforced on most of the content hosting sites. Since blockchain technology has played quite a ubiquitous role in crowd-sourcing and incentivizing, many social entrepreneurs are planning to utilize blockchain towards enabling unbiased news. Samit Singh is a business management and finance graduate from Penn State University. He and his team are trying to build a blockchain-enabled news platform that can combat bias and political influence. This platform, called Decentralized News Network (DNN), will try to incentivize information verification to prevent the spread of misinformation. As stated on the network’s official website, DNN “is a news platform, combining news creation with decentralized networks to deliver factual content, curated by the community.” Their motto goes as “news by the people, for the people.” The three key aspects of DNN are – decentralized, factual and collaborative.
Since this news network is decentralized – it’s built over the Ethereum blockchain, it enables an immune network that is unhackable and cannot be taken – and thus it cannot be censored. The content posted on the network itself is stored on the blockchain, and therefore it is immutable. And since there is no central governing authority, bias is prevented. As the DNN website mentions, “DNN relies on consensus amongst content reviewers, rather than a central authority, to determine what should be published.” Furthermore, since the content posted on the network is persisted across multiple community-managed servers, it can never be taken off-the-web permanently.
Talking about the factual aspect, DNN claims that it “presents news in a thoroughly accurate way, combining the openness and freedom of blogs with the formal fact-checking of news organizations.” This is quite an innovative blend which was hitherto absent in the news industry. DNN implements an extensive review system that allows fact-checkers to validate the content posted by writers. Overall accuracy and legitimacy are evaluated. There are also comprehensive guidelines that are provided to the reviewers by the network. They essentially guide the reviewers on how to “vet” articles before they are published on DNN. Moreover, reviewers can provide detailed feedback on the content submitted. They can simply attach notes to the articles, and often suggest tips on content pedagogy, among other factors that can improve readability. All these measures are quite similar to the editorial review process, but rather this time, the process is decentralized.
The above two aspects hint on the third one – that DNN is, of course, collaborative in nature. It involves the talents of readers, writers, reviewers, and publishers to bring true value to their network. Collaboration is further aided by DNN tokens, group-incentives, and interchangeable roles. As with other blockchain-based services, activity on DNN is fueled by its own cryptocurrency – called DNN tokens. These tokens are distributed in proportion to a contributor’s effort. Furthermore, DNN users are also rewarded for their collective actions, thereby “establishing a community that thrives on incentives.” Users can also “seamlessly” switch between reader, writer, and reviewer roles, so not only they can supply truth to the network, they can also consume it quite easily. By the way, even readers are rewarded by the network for their readership and other engaging activities – perhaps commenting and sharing the content links. Therefore, DNN essentially works as follows – first, content producers submit their work on the network. Then the content is validated by a randomized set of reviewers, as explained above. A small feedback loop can often be generated here. Finally, articles that are acceptable as per DNN’s guidelines are then published to the network and made available to the readers. This step also makes the content immutable in DNN’s blockchain. For more information on the network’s architecture, the DNN white paper is available here.
However, DNN isn’t production-ready yet. The network is currently in alpha stage and features basic functionality for readers, writers, and reviewers. I was excited to try it out and registered as a reader, but there were already about 1033 readers ahead of me who were waiting for test drives. To get a hang for some more numbers, DNN claims that there are already more than 1500 committed reviewers, 100+ writers and more than 20,000 readers who have signed up on the network. The team has a decent experience in building companies, so it seems quite probable that DNN will be implemented well. Till then, we will have to be simply more careful while consuming information from the Internet.
Saurabh Chaturvedi is a freelance developer and technical writer with a keen interest in blockchain, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies.
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