The Internet is all shadows and mirrors—but what if it were the central source of truth? Thanks to Blockchain technology, it's a future that's possible.
Imagine a world where facts rule the Internet, and lies and rumors are stripped of their disguises before they can do damage. That's actually possible, explains tech expert Brian Behlendorf, the executive director of the Hyperledger Project (who was also a primary developer of the Apache HTTP Server, the most widely used web server in the world). Although a completely truthful Internet might be dull, and a little totalitarian, it would be sweet relief for all digital citizens if someone could end fake news. Distributed ledger technology like Blockchain could do that, says Behlendorf, by changing the way organizations collect and store data. If data were decentralized or transparent on an unmodifiable Blockchain, it would be almost impossible to attack the source or integrity of someone's data on that open ledger. "I view distributed ledger technology as the closest thing we have in the technology field to being able to say something is a fact," says Behlendorf. A distributed ledger system could also be used to help us check our confirmation biases in response to fake news. Currently, central providers like Facebook and Google can alert you to news sources that may be less than factual, but imagine a decentralized version, like a Yelp for news media, with experts who score platforms on their integrity, as well as crowd-contributed ratings. In the future, what if the Internet helped resolve controversy instead of cranking the rumor mill?
Users don't need better media literacy to beat fake news. We need social media to be frank about its commercial interests.
Wikipedia has come a long, long way. Back when teachers and education institutions were banning it as an information source for students, did anyone think that by 2017 "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit" would gain global trust? Wikipedia had a rough start and some very public embarrassments, explains Katherine Maher, the executive director at the Wikimedia Foundation, but it has been a process of constant self-improvement. Maher attributes its success to the Wikimedia community who are doggedly committed to accuracy, and are genuinely thankful to find errors — both factual and systemic ones — so they can evolve away from them. So what has Wikimedia gotten right that social platforms like Facebook haven't yet? "The whole conversation around fake news is a bit perplexing to Wikimedians, because bad information has always existed," says Maher. The current public discourse focuses on the age-old problem of fake news, rather than the root cause: the commercial interests that create a space where misinformation doesn't just thrive — it's rewarded. Why doesn't Facebook provide transparency and context for its algorithms? An explanation for 'why am I seeing this news?' could allow users to make good decisions based on where that information comes from, and what its motive is. "We [at Wikimedia] hold ourselves up to scrutiny because we think that scrutiny and transparency creates accountability and that accountability creates trust," says Maher.
Imagine a world where governments compete for your citizenships. Bitcoin and Blockchain expert Toni Lane Casserly explains how this technology could anoint people over institutions. How Blockchain Can Empower Migrants and Refugees
As a partner in BitNation and the founder of CoinTelegraph, entrepreneur Toni Lane Casserly is starting to think about a world with more fluid borders. Whether it’s through what she terms a "civilized refugee crisis" as a result of climate change, a refugee crisis as a result of continued war and conflict, or the progression of humanity's mindset (which admittedly will take much longer, if it happens at all), a technology is being cultivated to support such a world: Blockchain.
In the future, Casserly pictures something revolutionary: a market-based government. "People should be able to opt in and to opt out of systems of governance and the ways that they are able to provide for their people. So governments are actually – what a concept – competing to be better, to take care of their people more than any other government." In the video above, Casserly runs through the ways Blockchain and distributed ledger technology can empower individuals who are financially or politically disenfranchised, or whose identity and human rights are infringed upon by the government they were allocated upon the geographical accident of their birth. It’s a beautiful ideology at heart – whether it will fully materialize remains to be seen.
Facebook can flip your digital identity on and off at the switch; that is way too much power for any corporation to have, says Oliver Luckett — and we handed it to them.
It’s likely that most of us signed up to Facebook before we truly knew how powerful it was or would become. Many of us were too young, or inexperienced in the digital world, to realize that, at the end of the day, we were and are the product Facebook is really selling. We are sorted, packaged and prompted to act (by giving likes, clicking ads, and sharing emotional states and information) so that a supremely valuable commodity – our attention – can be more profitably sold to advertisers. It’s how we end up in echo chambers of like-minded people, and it’s this illusion of agreeability that started to tear in the wake of the election result.
We’re responsible for handing over our data to Facebook, there’s no question about that, but now that users are becoming more informed of data harvesting and algorithmic practices – by outside sources, not by Facebook itself, notes technology entrepreneur Oliver Luckett – we should seriously give thought to building our digital identities independently of Facebook.
Luckett takes issue with Facebook for its lack of transparency and its monopoly on power. Mark Zuckerberg is the most powerful editor-in-chief in the world, and that terrifies Luckett. From his own personal experience, Luckett tells a story of how his account was instantly shut down when he sent an image from a medical textbook to a friend over Facebook messenger. He received a notification that he was under review, and was denied access to his account until further notice. With that, he also lost access to websites and apps that were connected to his Facebook profile – Instagram, Soundcloud, Spotify. Imagine losing access to sites and resources you really depend on. "Someone can just be erased from a system without any recourse… That's too much power," Luckett says.
More worrying than switching off your online identity network is the lack of transparency in Facebook’s algorithms and social experiments. Luckett explains these in depth in the video, illuminating how little we know about the way Facebook turns algorithmic dials up and down without our knowledge (but we did press ‘I Agree’ on the T&Cs;, so yes, that's on us), affecting who and what we see. This is particularly significant for businesses who have invested money in audience visibility through Facebook – 44% of the U.S. population accesses news on the social platform, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation. People and businesses are becoming heavily dependent on Facebook and powerless to its decisions.
The safeguard is remembering that Facebook is a choice; carve out your identity and your business so that if Facebook were pulled out from under your feet, it wouldn’t devastate you or your livelihood. Enjoy it for the amazing service that it is, but be wary and informed of how it works beneath the interface.
Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey's book is The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life.