Readers expect their news content to be reliable and trustworthy, but many doubt that this is actually the case. Readers cite topics such as untested sources, too fast to press, negligent reporting, and intentionally misleading news sites that add to their dwindling confidence in published content. Still, readers are looking for credible, factual, and objective news – and are even willing to pay for it. More trust will come from more transparency in the reporting and writing process, and the solution for this for news sites will come from an unusual source: blockchain technology.
Trust in the publication today
We recently produced a report called “Trust in Digital Publishing” to find out how readers currently feel about the news sites they are following, what stories they see, and how believable they are. We found that 61% of respondents would like better fact verification and a greater focus on the accuracy of the news sites they follow. They believe news sites publish inaccurate information due to inexperienced journalists or bad practices, and 35% think news organizations do not have the best interests of their readers in mind. Meanwhile, 42% stopped reading a news site they had previously read and 51% left news sites simply because of an article they believed was inaccurate.
But readers are indeed looking for good, factual news: 46% of respondents said they pay for proper journalism. They say better fact-checking, a focus on accuracy rather than speed, being more transparent about the editorial process, and admitting when the news agency made a mistake can all help build trust. When it comes to transparency in the editorial process, some news sites have started to “show their work” – for example, when Washington Post Journalist David Fahrenthold posted pictures of his research notes to his followers on Twitter. This process enables readers to see how stories have been researched and put together.
But I think companies can go a step further and use blockchain timestamps to build trust among their readers.
Related: Trust is still a must in the trustless world of cryptocurrency
How blockchain can boost trust
Blockchain technology didn’t start with cryptocurrency. It was created much earlier in a 1991 whitepaper entitled “How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document” by researchers Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They anticipated the questions that would arise in a digital world about the authorship and authenticity of documents. “They wondered how we could know for sure what is true about the past,” wrote Amy Whitaker in The Wall Street Journal. “What would prevent a manipulation of historical records – and would it be possible to protect such information for future generations?” The solution from Haber and Stornetta: time stamp of the data.
Instead of taking documents and data and sending them to a timestamp service for safe storage – where they could still be tampered with – Haber and Stornetta suggested providing data with a unique identifier or a hash that would be appended to the data. The unique hash would then be sent to a service to be tied to a specific version of the document or data – like an “old school copyright” – and stored in a decentralized public ledger. This is how the blockchain works, starting with realizing the need to protect the accuracy of content.
Connected: Back to the originally intended purpose of the blockchain: time stamping
The same use cases suggested by Haber and Stornetta can be applied today: time stamping an invention or idea to show who first created it, or time stamping company documents to prove they have been tampered with. But the biggest use case today is where most of us get most of our information: the Internet.
Timestamps can be a way to prove authorship, detect unauthorized changes to content, and add transparency and trust to the article someone is reading. After creating content, a news source would time stamp it with a unique hash, which was then added to a public blockchain for everyone to see. This unique hash – consisting of inputting the title, the date and the font itself – would correspond to that particular content. Once the hash has been added to the blockchain, it cannot be changed. If the content of the piece is updated or changed, a new hash must be created with a different timestamp. Essentially, every piece of content in a news organization has an individual fingerprint that proves its integrity in an open source manner.
It also prevents intermediaries from “stamping their approval on content” and leaves out a biased and fallible third party who might corrupt or alter the data (a solution that some news organizations are proposing today and that is exactly what Haber and Stornetta wanted to avoid). An article in Wired also points out that we pay big bucks to third party intermediaries for many different services, many of which can replace blockchain technology. They point out, “In a decade or so it will be like the Internet: we will wonder how society ever functioned without it. The internet has changed the way we share information and connect; The blockchain will change the way we share values and who we trust. ”
Timestamps can increase reader confidence knowing they are reading an unchanged article or message. Once timestamping becomes widespread, readers will trust news organizations who use it more and distrust those who don’t.
Connected: Is crypto approaching its “Netscape moment”?
Timestamp for tomorrow
Today reader loyalty is not guaranteed. More and more readers are switching news sites in search of information that is factual, objective, and accurate. You are also looking for more transparency in the writing, research and editing processes. The timestamp is a way to help readers understand when the content was created and reassure them that they are reading an original version of the story and not altering it. Increased trust increases loyalty, which also increases readers and paying subscribers.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Sebastian van der Lans is Chairman of the Trusted Web Foundation and Founder and CEO of WordProof. He is the winner of the European Commission’s Blockchains for Social Good Contest. He has made it his business to bring trust back to the Internet.