Chief Evangelist at Rockmetric. CXO Advisor, Author, Startup Mentor, TEDx Speaker and Dogfather.
There is nothing new about fake news. It has been in existence for centuries, albeit without the scaffolding of support from social media. From housewives’ tales to gossip magazines, the Trojan horse to the misinformation around the D-Day landing site, fake news has been a rite of passage.
The Russian military made this into a fine art with “maskirovka,” the doctrine gaining superiority through deception, denial and disinformation. However, it was the 2016 U.S. presidential election that branded it with a legit identity and with such alacrity that today, I find myself questioning everything I read or hear about, no matter the veracity of the source. Fake news is a contagion that has the potency to be as disruptive as the coronavirus and must be fought with equal urgency.
If you cannot solve the problem, manage it.
The power behind fake news is big data — the quantum of data generated and its velocity of distribution. Big data feeds companies with interesting consumer insights on evolving trends and behaviors, which are then beautifully packaged into text, video or audio content by harnessing machine learning and deep learning algorithms.
The slips happen here. If I were to personify fake news, Cersei Lannister, the manipulative, power-hungry queen in Game of Thrones, would be the perfect candidate. Cersei embellishes the truth with dramatic twists and turns to create compelling lies. We experienced a similar situation when news broke that President Trump’s grandfather owned the Arctic Restaurant and Hotel in Bennett, British Columbia, during the 1890s and 1900s, which fueled an interesting twist on the source of the family’s wealth.
It is almost difficult to differentiate fake news from real news. While AI will help us identify fake news, we need a preventive measure that nips it in the bud — a vaccination rather than medication.
If tech helps in creating an issue, should tech help solve it too?
Based on my years of experience in implementing these solutions for large enterprises and developing next-gen blockchain offerings with startups, I believe blockchain may just be the remedy we are looking for. Most technologists, however, do not consider blockchain to be a relevant or credible technology, with the primary criticisms being its lack of widespread adoption and its esotericism. But I believe the contrary. The vision of grandma-proof blockchain is becoming real — to create an inclusive global, scalable blockchain solution that can cater to every human need.
Blockchain should be our weapon to effectively reduce and ultimately eradicate fake news.
Blockchain is nothing but a distributed ledger that helps build trust in decentralized networks and that runs on the computing power of its participants. No single individual or group holds the authority, but everyone needs to approve; therefore, it enables the highest degree of integrity, privacy and security. This is accomplished by consensus algorithms. Each blockchain has adopted some form of it, and some even claim to have consensus that can prevent obfuscation of the truth even when faced with over 90% malicious intent.
Blockchain technology enables a “shared single version of truth” across multiple entities based on two fundamental characteristics: immutability and traceability.
Immutability is when a blockchain ledger has the capability to remain unaltered, effectively ensuring that any data on the blockchain cannot be altered — only built upon.
Each block created has a unique identity and timestamp attached to it that builds a fortress around the data. Innovative upcoming blockchains use crypto-biometric identity to further buttress the fort. For example, Mediachain, a decentralized independent music library, uses blockchain to protect the originator’s authenticity by providing information about the creator, producer and lyrics to listeners. Steemit is a decentralized social media site that rewards content creators who also interact with other users. Each content piece or interaction is recorded on the immutable record by blockchain.
And if news companies were to adopt blockchain — and organizations like the New York Times are already working on this — this is what we might expect:
• Journalists could create a block (an entry in a distributed ledger) and upload news via text, image or video.
• Editors would then create another new block with an edited version of the news, leaving the original block unchanged.
• Publishers (news agencies) would then publish the news based on their block and any changes that they might make.
Each one of the participants is authenticated on the blockchain with a simple touch of their finger while protecting the fidelity of the news.
Remember, entries cannot be changed, only built upon, and therefore, each change is recorded and allocated to a specific entity. For someone to “fake” the news, they would have to alter the data at each level. Infiltrating the high-security protocols would require considerable time and resource allocations.
As mentioned, each block that is created has a distinct identity attached, preferably a crypto-biometric for added security and individual control. So, if fake news is generated and circulated through social media using blockchain as the base, it becomes easier to pinpoint the culprit while establishing the real source of the news. This would ascribe true content ownership to credible creators.
Fake news creators are using advanced tech stacks to create deepfakes for digital deception. Generative adversarial networks (GANs) can help them to create deepfakes of images and videos that can even counteract or deceive advanced AI/ML algorithms. Of course, GANs are also being used to detect fake news now. If technology has helped fake news become compelling and believable, let’s use intelligent and available technology like blockchain to at least control it, if not eradicate it.
Then again, if blockchain had existed in the medieval ages, we would have been denied the entertaining antics of Cersei Lannister and the wonderful blockbuster series that kept most of us enthralled!