Blockchain can help publishers improve audience trust
Readers expect their news content to be reliable and trustworthy, but many doubt that it really is. Readers cite issues such as unverified sources, printing too quickly, sloppy reporting, and intentionally misleading news sites that help undermine their confidence in published content. Yet readers seek – and are even willing to pay for it – reliable, factual, and objective news. More trust will come from being more transparent in the reporting and writing process, and the solution for that for news websites will come from an unusual source: blockchain technology.
The state of confidence in publishing today
We recently produced a report titled “Trust in Digital Publishing” in an attempt to find out how readers feel about the news sites they follow, the stories they watch and their trustworthiness. We found that 61% of respondents wanted better fact checking and a greater focus on the accuracy of the news sites they were following. They believe news websites publish inaccurate information due to inexperienced journalists or bad practices, and 35% believe news organizations are not in the best interests of their readers. Meanwhile, 42% have stopped reading a news website they used to read and 51% have given up news websites because they think an article is inaccurate.
In reality, however, readers are looking for good, real news: 46% of respondents said they would be willing to pay for accurate articles. They say better fact checking, a focus on accuracy over speed, more transparency in the editorial process, and spotting mistakes can help a news organization increase credibility. When it comes to editorial transparency, some news sites have started to “show their work” – as when Washington Post Journalist David Fahrenthold has posted pictures of his research notes to his Twitter followers. This process allows the reader to see how the stories have been researched and put together.
But I think companies can go a step further and use blockchain timestamps to increase the trust of their readers.
Related: Trust is still a must in the trustworthy world of crypto
How blockchain can boost trust
Blockchain technology didn’t start with cryptocurrencies. It was created much earlier in the 1991 whitepaper entitled “How to time stamp a digital document” by researchers Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They foresaw the questions that would arise in the digital world around copyright and document authenticity. “They wonder how we can know for sure what is true about the past,” writes Amy Whitaker in The Wall Street Journal. “What will prevent the falsification of historical records – and is it possible to protect this information for future generations?” Haber and Stornetta’s solution: time stamp data.
Instead of sending documents and data to a timestamp service for secure storage – where they can still be manipulated – Haber and Stornetta recommend providing data with a unique identifier or a hash that is appended to the data. The unique hash is then sent to a service to be tied to a specific version of a document or data – like an “old school copyright” – and stored in a ledger. This is how blockchain works, starting with realizing the need to protect the accuracy of content.
Connected: Back to the original purpose of the blockchain: timestamp
The same use cases suggested by Haber and Stornetta could be applied today: time stamping an invention or idea to show who first created it, or time stamping company documents to prove they were tampered with. But today’s biggest use case is where most of us get most of our information: the Internet.
Timestamps can be a way to prove authorship, reveal unauthorized changes to content, and add more transparency and credibility to the article someone is reading. After content is created, a news source stamps it with a unique hash, which is then added to a public blockchain for all to see. This unique hash – which contains inputs from the title, date, and text itself – corresponds to that particular content. Once the hash has been added to the blockchain, it cannot be changed. If the content of the section is updated or changed, a new hash must be generated with a different timestamp. Essentially, every piece of content that a news organization creates has a personal fingerprint that proves its integrity in an open source manner.
It also prevents intermediaries from stamping “their consent” on the content, eliminating a biased and error-prone third party who could corrupt or alter data (a solution some organizations haven’t done). What is the news suggesting today and what exactly? Haber and Stornetta want to avoid). An article in Wired Also pointed out that we pay big bucks to third party intermediaries for many different services, many of which are interchangeable blockchain technologies. They point out, “In a decade it will be like the Internet: we will wonder how society used to function without it. The internet has changed the way we share information and connect; Blockchain will change the way we share values and who we trust. “
Timestamps can increase reader confidence that they know they are reading an unchanged news article or story. Once timestamps become widespread, readers will be more likely to trust news organizations who use them and distrust those who don’t.
Connected: Is the cryptocurrency approaching its “Netscape moment”?
Timestamp for tomorrow
Reader loyalty is not guaranteed today. More and more readers are turning to news sites in search of websites that provide factual, objective, and accurate information. They also strive for more transparency in their writing, research and editing processes. Timestamps are a way to help readers understand when content was created and reassure them that they are reading the original version of the story rather than the modified version. More trust increases loyalty, which will also increase paying readers and subscribers.
Sebastian van der Lans is President of the Trusted Web Foundation and Founder and CEO of WordProof. He is the winner of the European Commission’s Blockchains Competition for the Social Good. He has made it his business to bring trust to the Internet.