The Philippines is a curious case in today’s digital age. It became the subject of Facebook’s experiment in 2013, wherein anyone who owned a mobile device would get free access to its platform. Of course, Filipinos welcomed it with open arms—who wouldn’t want free Facebook?
But the gift did not come without its repercussions: public disinformation immediately proliferated like a pandemic, as many did not have access to more credible sites, thereby having been led to believe much concocted propaganda. Cyber trolls flourished, and credible news agencies are losing the battle in terms of popularity and consumption.
A recent survey revealed that 78 percent of Filipinos are satisfied with the results of the drug war so far, which was intensified when a tough-on-crime president assumed the position in 2016. President Rodrigo Duterte, who vowed to put an end to narcotics within three to six months, has yet to deliver on this promise of a drug- and crime-free Philippines.
Consequently, the campaign has cost the country over 12,000 deaths, according to a January 2018 report by Human Rights Watch. Almost nine months have passed since the report was published. Is anyone still keeping count?
But there are hundreds of resources that are backed by intelligent research and historical examples, proving that the current approach to curbing drug addiction is ineffective at best. Nonetheless, most of the Filipinos are satisfied, even if the campaign has very little results to show for—if anything.
Blockchain technology, despite being considered nascent by different experts, offers a number of properties which can help trace fake news to the root and help developing countries like the Philippines in combating disinformation. If the country does not mount an offensive against fake news sooner rather than later, there’s no telling how many more will die needlessly.
Fighting Off The Propaganda
According to Ivan Vankov, software engineer and IBM champion for 2018 in cloud/blockchain category, fake news is peddled by cyber trolls and artificial intelligence (AI) platforms backed by a certain organization, or even a government. To fight off the propaganda, blockchain technology can help by verifying the identity of a particular Facebook account. Even though the social media platform has already taken steps to use AI and machine learning to shut down these fake accounts, blockchain technology can do better by spotting a bad actor responsible for a couple of fake accounts faster than machine learning.
Vankov provided a hypothetical example, wherein media organizations can send a specific news information on the blockchain, which in turn will receive a unique identification tag that will go along with the news. Computers would be able to read the identifying marks, even though they are not visible to the naked eye.
Once an organization that is associated with the media outlet receives the news, it can opt to redistribute it to its audience. This will make sure that only credible news information will be published by media outlets and their partner organizations.
Vankov also offered other platforms, like the Hyperledger Fabric, which is intended to be a foundation for developing applications or solutions that have a modular architecture. According to Hyperledger’s website, it allows components, such as consensus and membership services, to be ‘plug-and-play.
Blockchain technology can also empower media outlets and personalities by providing a digital information marketplace where every journalist from around the world be paid for credible and valuable information. One example is Civil, which is a blockchain-powered digital journalism platform. Journalists affiliated with its marketplace can get rewarded with Civil (CVL) tokens for providing relevant information, including videos and sound bites.
Another option is Steem, which is another blockchain-based social media network. Content creators are also remunerated for their relevant contributions to the network. This way, only those that are deemed helpful and factual by the community will gain popularity.
If Facebook is as serious in fighting fake news, perhaps it can develop a similar content-creation incentive system.
For Long-Term Fight Against Disinformation
In April, the European Commission announced that it is using blockchain technology to combat the spread of false information online, in acknowledgment of its potential to play a pivotal role in tackling disinformation over the long term.
According to the announcement:
“Innovative technologies, such as blockchain, can help preserve the integrity of content, validate the reliability of information and/or its sources, enable transparency and traceability, and promote trust in news displayed on the Internet. This could be combined with the use of trustworthy electronic identification, authentication, and verified pseudonyms…”
Facebook can also collaborate with media organizations and content hubs to track the consumer insight both on their articles and on Facebook to gauge the quality of their content and possible biases. Blockchain technology can streamline the crowdsourcing of data, and incentivize readers whose participations are deemed relevant by the system.
But ultimately, it is still humans whose mere shares and likes contribute to the proliferation of fake news. Technology will remain to be either good or evil, and its fate will rest solely on our hands. Vankov went further as to claim that the real medium is us humans, specifically our desires, anger, hate, and regret.
In the end, we get to choose whether we accept the truth, be it unpleasant or unhelpful, or we create our own version of reality. But as long as fake news continually drowns out the voice of reason and truth, many countries aside from the Philippines will have to put up with trolls and concocted propaganda.
“There is no way to prevent irrational people [from] taking irrational actions,” said Vankov, “but there is a way to help rational people to stay rational—by allowing them to check the information.”
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