We’ve all participated in the rhetoric at this point. Ironically or otherwise, it’s likely you’ve said or thought the phrase “fake news” while scrolling through social media, tuning the radio or flipping through television. Many of us have come to expect a level of bias, shoddy journalism, corporate interference and dishonesty from our news sources and a divide is forming in America between those who trust the news and those who don’t. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, to many, the news landscape in America is looking bleak.
Blockchain technology, primarily known for secure ledgers and transactions, isn’t a conventional solution to this problem but DNN (Decentralized News Network) and a handful of others are looking for ways to utilize it to reintroduce objectivity to journalism. Reading like a Thanksgiving dinner dialogue, the DNN White Paper lays out some disheartening statistics about the state of modern news media. In a time where fewer and fewer organizations own more and more of the major news distributors and more adults are utilizing platforms like Facebook as their source of major news, it’s no wonder that trust in the accuracy of the news is being undermined.
What companies like DNN, Civil, Unsplash, and Simple Token are attempting to do is disrupt the model of the single source news story and distribute it amongst contributors, fact-checkers and publishers so that no one person, group or corporate entity is controlling the narrative. Participation is incentivized and tracked on the blockchain to further facilitate transparency. By incentivizing participation with tokens from the top down, anyone with a story can tell it and be incentivized. Fact-checkers are incentivized to validate the reporting and it’s up to the community to decide if the story gets published. Participation, accuracy and relevancy are rewarded by a community of people dedicated to truly news-worthy stories and ethical journalism.
It’s an egalitarian view of journalism and one that is particularly tempting given the era of “fake news” we’ve entered into.
Naturally with anything this idealistic, there are inherent problems. This structure could and should work ideally. In a truly capitalistic system, good stories and good reporting draws in an audience that actively participates in keeping the ecosystem healthy. There is an existing model of this type of participation. Wikipedia was created and is curated by the online community and even with its problems, the enormous pool of contributors, editors and enthusiasts have made it into a go-to source of information that has a growing track record among its users and critics. So the fundamental premise is correct: a large, active and decentralized group of participants can create and maintain a compelling body of work.
However, it’s just as likely that group could become saturated with people or entities who have something to gain from having the upper hand in the market as it is that the group will remain dedicated to decentralized news. While the blockchain provides a level of transparency by providing a clear roadmap of who has been incentivized and when, it can’t track outside motives conversations the writers, checkers or publishers may be having on the road to publication. In other words, people are very good at finding ways around accountability and the technology is limited by its own rigidity. That being said, any level of transparency and accountability is much needed and steps should be taken to restore trust in news sources.
The other potential problem is the use of tokens to incentivize participation. Without getting too lost in the nuances, let’s imagine a coin dish in your mom’s living room. In the dish, you have a couple of gold Sacajawea US dollars, a Canadian loonie and a handful of leftover tokens from last weekend’s trip to the arcade. The dollar and loonie are native currencies; you could go down the street with the dollar and purchase a drink or go to a bank and swap the loonie out for whatever the dollar equivalent is. However, the arcade tokens have no purchasing power at the store and can’t be swapped at the bank. Even though mom paid for them with her native currency, they have no use or value outside of the arcade’s ecosystem. Very roughly, that’s what we’re looking at with Ethereum Tokens.
Why could this create a problem for decentralization? Just like with the arcade tokens, the participation is limited to who comes to play. That’s why these types of set ups are commonly referred to as “pay to play;” the scope of people interested in purchasing the tokens from those compensated with them, is limited to the participants interested. This can create an incestuous market where the same groups of creators sell their tokens to the same groups of readers and the same echo chamber that exists outside of blockchain journalism perpetuates itself inside.
DNN says this in their own White Paper that the biggest defense against someone coming in and consolidating the network is going to be recruiting and sustaining a large and enthusiastic community that is dedicated to this concept of keeping the news decentralized. A more true statement couldn’t be made. Ultimately, it’s great to see creative solutions to a widely known problem and there’s something inherently hopeful about placing so much trust in the hands of the public.
For more details, check out the DNN White Paper who’s token sale is live now or follow Civil on the podcast ZigZag.