In the last 10 months, COVID-19 literally brought the world to its knees. But the pandemic has, in fact, been less of a pandemic and more of an infodemic. The internet was full of news reports, stories, blog articles, and ‘guides’ on ‘how to stay safe out there’.
And what percentage of this content is really worth relying on? Which source to trust, and which one to disappoint? Why has this global catastrophe become a breeding ground for misinformation and rumored peddlers? Why is it careful to completely valid information? Is blockchain technology the answer to this endless barrage of inaccurate coronavirus information?
The ‘COVIMisinformation Virus’ And How It Came to Life
The practice of suppressing rumors has long been immoral. We humans have been spreading theories of misinformation and conspiracy since the invention of speech. But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was driving fake news circulation to a completely different level.
The coronavirus spread through the hosts of human carriers. While misinformation pervades the mass media. Digital technologies, social media networks, and online news portals just added fuel to this fire. Mainstream news outlets, as they were called, organized the operation of an elaborate fake news machine.
Through the Social Media Engine
Apart from this, social media has proved to be one of the most prolific production portals for fake news and misinformation. And the worst part about content churning out social media is the confirmation with actual facts. The social media players handled most of the actual information that can be used. And immediately the real, useful stuff crossed over. Either by group admirers or by the folks company themselves.
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison recently highlighted this issue on Twitter.
Someone I know has had some pretty useful COVID related posts removed from Medium, LinkedIn, and Nextdoor – they have been deemed “COVID incorrect information”. (That’s not what WHO approves!)
– Patrick Collison (@patrickc) December 15, 2020
The matter blew exponentially. So much so that information from the most reliable and verifiable sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) was not allowed to see the light of day in reality. This has inadvertently led to an increase in self-published censorship and conspiracy pedaling.
Stanford Digital Economy Lab Director and Stanford University professor Erik Brynjolfsson seconded Collison’s point of view by highlighting how Twitter seems to have projected ‘historical’ false aspects of true stories.
Twitter has historically inflated untruths with respect to truth. See https://t.co/oW7TMnA9A2
So I’d say if something they are underinvesting in trying to filter out wrong information.
– Erik Brynjolfsson (@erikbryn) December 15, 2020
Another example of Twitter’s self-assertive policing is how the platform highlighted some tweets with the label ‘misinformation’. This, in turn, makes it difficult to like / retweet tweets. TechCrunch described this inappropriate view of Twitter as ‘appropriate’.
Twitter says it is trying to uproot inaccurate information today by not allowing those labeled, misleadingly appear in Search or injecting users into Timelines (if they don’t follow the account). But those tweets can still be answered, liked and re-tweeted.
Through the generous Contribution of medical expert experts
The Week Magazine highlighted that medical professionals and public figures have also contributed to the spread of lies and skeptical opinions regarding COVID-19.
The journal quoted research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information which states:
Many experts took contrasting sides, emphasizing the seriousness of COVID-19 or silencing the public with claims that the virus is dangerous. From that perspective and medical experts without a unified voice, it became difficult to distribute various accounts.
In terms of public figures, many saw the population reject their thoughts about the pandemic. Why? Simply because he / she does not belong to the group with which they (the people) tend to be.
Can Blockchain Technology Help Fight the Fluff?
As reported by CryptoPotato, A 174-year-old New York-based non-profit news agency, The Associated Press, recorded their calls for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election on the Ethereum blockchain. This is the first time a prominent organization has used a distributed computer system. Publish data relating to one of the largest electoral events in history. But can blockchain technology help provide a break from killing fake news, inaccurate information and censorship?
Yes. Why? Because decentralized systems have an edge over central information gateways such as social media platforms and news outlets. These gateways leverage human trust to spread news which, in turn, also gives them a upper hand to censor authentic information as they wish.
And as this data transmits online through central servers, hackers can intercept the traffic and manipulate pieces of information to further exacerbate the issue. Online perpetrators can interfere with ‘already interrupted’ information to further their personal agenda. Or they can disguise themselves as notable people and deal with scams. This was evident from the infamous Twitter hack a few months ago, where bitcoin scam tweets went out of links of uber-famous personalities.
Distributed Computing is the Key
However, with blockchain systems, this risk gets drastically short. Popular public blockchain networks like Ethereum, Bitcoin, or for that matter private networks like Monero can block the spread of fake news and misinformation. And information handling.
Through the injection of reliable and validated data in the blockchain, it becomes difficult to doctor facts. Only when sufficient consensus is reached do nodes in the network approve information (to be inserted in a block). And this eliminates all possible corruption of information.
In addition, the validated piece of information, in this case, COVID-19 security guidelines / news would always remain accessible to all users of the blockchain without the ‘single point attack risks of failure’. As long as the nodes are still running. Each spectacular version of a given piece of information can be easily checked against the valid version on the blockchain, laying a rest to the spread of inaccurate information.
Not there yet
But while the above sounds absolutely fantastic on paper, ground reality is a little different. The truth is that blockchain-based systems are not quite ready to tackle the transmission or storage of critical information. Or in that regard wandering through a gargantuan pile of data to weed out inaccurate information.
The same was recently highlighted by leading MIT scientists Ron Rivest, professor at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Michael Specter; Sunoo Park, and MIT’s Director of Digital Currency Initiative (DCI), Neha Narula, in their latest paper.
The paper’s literature digs sharply into the theoretical application of blockchain in electoral processes. And it shows carefully how distributed ledger technology would replace plugging cybersecurity holes in the voting process instead of increasing security.
While the current electoral systems are far from perfect, blockchain would greatly increase the risk of undetectable election failures on a nation scale. Any increase in turnout would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes were counted as they were cast.
So while the Associated Press may have secured the Ethereum blockchain to record calls for the latest US Presidential elections, it’s not a green light at all for mass adoption. But according to their inherent design and principle, blockchains could help fight the disease of misinformation.
What they need is a little more work.
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