Can Blockchain End Fake News?

Although fake news has existed well before the 2016 election, the term has risen to new levels of prominence during the presidency of Donald Trump. The Collins Dictionary went so far as to make "fake news" its word of the year in 2017. Now, a new project hopes to utilize one of the latest and most powerful technologies to root out "alternative facts" in the media. Civil is a project based on blockchain technology and aimed at cleaning up journalism to remove lies and reestablish credibility where it may have faltered.

A 'Decentralized Marketplace for Sustainable Journalism'

Civil's creators have described the project as a "decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism," according to a report by The project has the goal of utilizing blockchain technology to bolster the credibility of its contributing journalists and to punish any journalists who violate their code of ethics. The project has already received widespread support, including a 1.7 million euro ($2 million) grant from the European Journalism Centre as well as $5 million from ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin's ConsenSys venture capital firm.

How it Works

Civil will launch a cryptocurrency called CVL via an initial coin offering, just as many other digital currency developers have done in order to raise capital. The project reportedly has a team of 100 journalists representing 15 different news organizations.

The project plans to operate by using a decentralized vetting system to question and verify reporting done by Civil's journalists. Though the plan is straightforward, putting it into practice may be much more complicated. Co-founder Mathew Iles explained in the project's white paper that "Civil thinks the solution to this broken system is an entirely new economy where advertisers ... are cut out, and journalists are free to publish directly to readers."

At this point, most mobile and web news apps utilize a free-to-use model. Civil will instead use the CVL token at all stages, from payments to writers to fees from readers. Newsrooms will even be able to put up CVL tokens in order to be a part of the vetting process. Anyone arguing that a publisher has not met ethics standards will have to wager tokens in order to have their claims evaluated; if they prove unfounded, the tokens will be lost. The developers of Civil anticipate that this process will help to reduce frivolous claims.

So far, the world that Civil is hoping to create remains largely theoretical, as there are no clear models elsewhere. Columbia Journalism Review writer Mathew Ingram suggests that the project is "very ambitious ... which means it is fairly risky. Will Civil build the kind of ecosystem it wants to? And will enough people be incentivized to take part in that process so that it works the way Civil wants it to?" The answers to these questions remain to be seen.

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