Mainstream media is facing serious challenges. We see a lack of  trust from the public in the news they consume. It is possible to see  that the root of these problems stem from the way power is organized in a  centralized way. However, using the most advanced technologies  available, the media landscape is continuing to change. Social media  revolutionized the way we access current affairs. Blockchain and other  decentralized networks take us a step further, changing the distribution  of power within media networks - from centralized to decentralized.

In the age of information, there is an overflow of data which poses a  challenge to how to organize it within a given network. The pitfalls of  centralized media platforms, as discussed below, show us that there can  be harmful effects to the way the network is controlled. As a response  we can see new, decentralized approaches aimed to tackle issues like  censorship and untrustworthy information. Over the course of these  decades there is fast-paced innovation which experiments with the way we  access and participate with news and media.

Trust in Media is Decreasing

A 2018 study by the American analytics organization, Gallup, shows that since 1976 (post-Watergate era) 72% of Americans trusted in the  national media. In recent years, the proportion wavers at around 40%,  with the lowest point in 2016 with 31%. The reasons for distrust these days include "fake news" (especially during the  Trump administration), bias, inaccuracy, information based on personal  opinions or emotions, sensationalism, hype, corporate agendas and  clickbait. It is also important to keep in mind that the media landscape  has radically evolved since the 1970s, pertaining to much more than  television, radio and newspapers. Social media, web journalism and  citizen documentation have changed the media landscape, notably  facilitated by smartphones. This change may be a carrier for the  untrusting sentiment towards media in younger generations.

On one hand, smartphones and social media have allowed us to  access the world like never before, making communication more instant  and convenient. On the other hand, increased accessibility has an  influence on the quality of information, as anyone with an internet  connection can share their subjective views and opinions. Unfiltered,  unregulated production and consumption of media.

Furthermore, recent scandals show that content on social media can be  manipulated to instill a private agenda. For example, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica "used personal information taken without  authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile  individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised  political advertisements."

What people may not always realize is that a great deal of these  issues surfacing in regards to "the media" stem from the centralized  structure of the industry. When power accumulates into greater centres  of control, information easily becomes manipulated, and may serve for  purposes other than purely the interest of the audience. Let's examine  some of the differences offered by decentralized approaches to media,  with a few examples of projects which have an innovative approach to  redistributing power to the users.

Censorship and resistance

As discussed above, central powers with full control makes  information vulnerable to censorship and manipulation. Oppressive  regimes around the world can be both explicit or implicit in the control  of the press.

1M5 (Invisible Matrix Services), a decentralized autonomous mission,  has been developing digital tools that embrace freedom of speech and  information. The 1M5 protocol works by integrating a number of  peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, such as Tor and I2P, to bypass centralized  control and censorship, making sure data never reaches central servers.  More precisely described:

"1M5 is a secure open-source decentralized peer-to-peer application  platform with end-to-end encryption and anonymity as a base layer for  creating easy to build and use secure decentralized peer-to-peer  applications requiring no server connections that can be used around the  world by any person looking to protect their communications and  personal data from unjust intrusion, interception, monitoring, and  censorship."

This goes hand in hand with privacy and transparency . The 1M5  protocol is open-source and unlicensed, meaning that developers are able  to embed the protocol within a variety of applications without having  to worry about copyright and jurisdiction issues. A game-changer when  considering the impact such a tool can have on the distribution of news,  media, and journalism. Paired with blockchain technology for various  projects, immutability is added as another strength. For news, media and  journalism, this is a game-changer.

Decentralized solutions

First developed by Brian Taylor,  the 1M5 protocol is now used to support a growing number of  applications. The first project to use it is Inkrypt. Its aim is to  publish content in a distributed way, by fragmenting the hosting and  delivery of information so that it cannot be blocked from any single  database. This makes the content permanent and immutable in the  decentralized database. Inkrypt writes:

"The current centralized internet architecture is prone to  censorship, breach and latency, and nations all over the globe use these  shortcomings to censor content. We believe in a truly free internet  where anyone has the ability to anonymously publish and store content  without risk of censorship."

Inkrypt emerged from Po.et Development Labs. Po.et is a separate  project which focuses on content ownership, discovery and monetization  in media. Content owners are given a blockchain-powered marketplace,  enforcing an immutable way to license their content. Furthermore, claims  to ownership or authorship are established and referenced throughout  the network. Former Po.et CEO, Jarrod Dicker, explains:

"By leveraging information and data, Po.et can provide an extendable  platform for end-to-end transparency in media attribution and valuation.  The platform will showcase, archive and track content where buyers and  the community set its value. It provides a steady signal to creators of  the quality of their work, as rewarded by the community, brands and  publishers."

Another emerging decentralized application is SalamTalk.  More than a news platform, SalamTalk focuses on exposing political  conflicts from within and facilitating dialogue. Unlike the homophilic  algorithms of most social media, SalamTalk invites users to encounter  "the other", with a search engine designed to allow you to discover  people with lives and backgrounds very different than your own. 1M5  protocol will also be used on SalamTalk to protect interactions taking  place on the platform from censorship and surveillance, while ensuring  transparency and open source protocols. Since 1M5 provides intelligent  routing, there are several P2P networks are used as a shield to  strengthen the security and integrity of the communication data. This is  essential to protect the privacy of interactions and safety of  individuals in politically sensitive environments.

Another  project work mentioning is DNN (Decentralized News Network), which  tackles the issue of fake news head on. Powered on the Ethereum  blockchain, the decentralized network means that:

"Authority  relies on content reviewers, rather than a central authority. Published  works will be determined by the people, for the people, and undergo an  extensive review process. Fact-checkers will validate writer submitted  content for overall accuracy and legitimacy… Introducing a transparent  system that has accountability and no central authority will help  differentiate them from the fraudsters."

For a democratic and  scalable solution to journalism, DNN ensures a new architecture for the  creation, curation, and publication of content with a focus on spreading  true, verified information. With a native currency, the user community  is invested in the content that is produced and published on the  platform.

Significant Changes in the Media Industry

What  these projects show us is a new, emerging organization of information  to suit the needs of a suffering media landscape. Unlike centralized  media platforms we are familiar with, there are several key  characteristics embedded in decentralized alternatives. Firstly is  monetization frameworks. Using native currencies and/or micropayments  revolutionize the way media platforms are funded and how different  contributors may profit. Secondly is reputation systems. Jarrod Dicker said at the 2018 World News Media Congress that reputation in decentralized  media can "stomp out bad actors and rise good actors and this will  elevate the entire media system because the incentivisations are  financial", and so being dishonest can turn out to be costly. Thirdly is  the principle of community in journalism. Everyone is a contributing  member. There is no longer just a producer and a consumer, everyone  plays an active role in the ecosystem.

On top of that, there are  reactionary approaches to the main issues in centralized media. Some of  the themes that these projects deal with are:

  • Censorship vs. Free speech
  • Corporate agendas vs. social interest
  • "Fake news" vs. reliable, verifiable sources
  • Opaqueness vs. transparency

Traditional journalism is a suffering field. Research shows that one in five local papers have gone out of business in the  past 15 years. The digitalization of media was the first step of  renewal, and now decentralization opens up a new horizon of possibilities. Freedom of speech is now embodied in code, overcoming a  historical hurdle that changes the way we interact with information and  allowing power to flow in new directions.

written by Miguel Cuneta