On July, 11, David Garrity, the chief executive of crypto asset finance consultancy, GVA research, gave a Bloomberg Radio talk where he suggested Twitter use blockchain to axe its splurge of fake news.
Russian Troll Farm (American Free Press)
Facebook is the place for gossip, LinkedIn for business connections and Twitter where you go for news. Unfortunately, Twitter has also become a Russian troll farm where, in March, 2018, its CEO, Jack Dorsey, found that a staggering number of 70 million fake accounts impersonated identities and that, at least, 48 U.S. newspapers had been replaced by fake accounts that spread their own news.
In the beginning, information operatives who worked out of the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg tweeted real local news. They borrowed handles like @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post, and gathered hundreds of thousands of followers. All the time, they groomed their U.S. readers for the 2016 election, when they slanted reports to favor Donald Trump and to harm Hillary Clinton.
False news on social media, a massive MIT study published by Science found, spreads faster than true news. If Putin’s attempt is to fragment the United States of America, he’s doing a mighty fine job.
Between May and June, Twitter purged 70 million accounts, roughly 21 percent of its 336 million monthly active users.
Twitter Purge (Flickr)
At the same time, Alex Taub, CEO of the social media analytics company SocialRank, had been trying to build an algorithm for Twitter that separates true accounts from false. His problem?
“We keep buying fake followers,” Taub told NBC News earlier this month, “and then we go to make the formula and basically two-thirds of these followers are gone.”
Worse still, fake accounts spring up as old ones are removed. Just this last week, an anonymous Twitter user fooled thousands into believing that Harley-Davidson’s CEO Matthew Levatich called Donald Trump a “moron.”
The false information was retweeted more than 35,000 times, including by prominent Twitter users, such as author Stephen King.
Garrity’s solution: A Twitter Blockchain
Shake any twig and, sooner or later, blockchain technology is bound to drop out as the proposal to any problem.
A few months ago, IBM recommended it for Facebook, so why not for Twitter?
“Blockchain,” said Garrity, “would verify user identity when accounts are opened and also to update that record as new posts are added.”
“Blockchain technology,” Bridget van Kralingen, IBM’s senior vice president of global Industries, platforms and blockchain, said on Fortune’s latest episode of Balancing the Ledger, “fits very well with some of the business model challenges that social media is facing, and I think they’re very right to take this very seriously.”
Because blockchain uses cryptography, the technology enables users to plug in permission for who can access, or use, their accounts, their usernames, or any derivative related to their brands. This disables impostors from impersonating famous individuals or companies, or from hacking Twitter accounts.
According to van Kralingen, “We would then control our own identities, versus somebody controlling our data today, which I think is very powerful.”
Here’s how your Blockchain Twitter would work
“My concept here,” Garrity explained, “is that Twitter would develop a utility token which users would have to employ to access their platform.”
On the one hand, Twitter wants its investors. The company, also, wants to carry on convincing users that its site imposes few rules and regulations.
On the other hand, Twitter wants to guarantee users that only real people are using its site.
“If they wanted to adopt a solution that allows a better tracking and verification around what activities are taking place on their site, blocking, more than anything else, has possible application and value.”
Verified Badge on Twitter (The Kathmandu Post)
Twitter has a system in place to verify accounts. Accounts of public interest have blue verified badges next to their profiles and next to the account names in search results. Accounts can be verified if they are involved with a government, politics, religion, journalism, media, music, acting, sports, or business. This badge is always the same color and always placed in the same location. Accounts that don’t have the badge next to their name but that display it somewhere else, for example in the profile photo, header photo, or bio, are not verified accounts.
Blockchain would take Twitter’s verified accounts project to a new level, also verifying posts.
The time-stamping encryption features of blockchain would automate the process, relieving Twitter workers of spending hundreds of hours matching tweets against events to fact-check their truth.
Twitter, too, is naturally a distributed network, which plays well into the decentralized distributed technology of blockchain.
“This is because you have many parties who are actually interested in establishing and affirming and upholding the veracity of what’s going across social media platforms. It’s easier for Twitter to consider a blockchain application.”
Our new Twitter platform could also copy Silicon Valley-based company Augur, which, while still in Beta, shows how it can feed real-world truths into its online application by paying reliable users to verify tweets and news. Augur has an Ethereum-based token called “REP” that tracks its users reputations and encourages them to be accurate. Consistent purveyors of true information are rewarded with REP that they can convert into cash.
An Augur-based model sounds rather an expensive proposition for Twitter, but it does illustrate how blockchain technology can signal some interesting solutions for purging inaccuracies.
“If this is what the Russians have done now,” Garrity said, “the main question becomes what are they going to do on an ongoing basis? Do we have a consensus potentially in Congress? Or do we have a consensus overseas, say in the EU to make sure that these practices are stopped, that the bar is being raised?”
Just last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that cyber threat warnings are “blinking red” with daily attempts by Russia and other foreign actors trying to undermine American democracy.
The Russian disinformation campaign continues as you read this article.
“If we can find a technology to enable this kind of verification of identity and veracity of content,” insisted Garrity, “we would all benefit.”