Fixing Fake News
There has been an ongoing struggle for the past century regarding the place of government, corporations, and individuals in society. Regulations have been created on the premise that these institutions represent a zero-sum game. Spend more? Tax Less? Help the needy? Trickle down economics? The breakdown of agency within broader society is largely due to a reliance on either government or business, for income. Both are Institutions operating at scale to solve big picture problems, except, they are composed of imperfect rational actors in a system of adverse incentives. Traditionally, news and media have acted as the fourth branch of government, broadcasting the inner workings of bureaucracy to keep the power-hungry in check. The internet forever changed this balance, and the efficacy of traditional relationships between government, media and businesses. The internet offers services at the maximum scale, allowing costs to be dissipated at the individual level through global crowdfunding. As a result, ads have replaced subscription costs for major publications, as the barriers to entry for journalists have largely dissipated. In the past decade, new media has moved market share (and ad revenue) away from major players, forcing them to adapt in an effort to survive.
If companies like Twitter, Google (Youtube), CNN, and Fox News exist to make money from ads, why is it that so often these companies engage in behavior that is seemingly counterintuitive? Youtube has made a point to (selectively) demonetize the content posted by those who violate their terms of service. The selective enforcement of these policies is important. While legally companies can block users from their platforms, what is the benefit of blocking and demonetizing Canadian Professor Jordan B. Peterson? Demonetization goes both ways. If you stop letting ads run during Hannity on Fox News, the network stops getting the revenue they need to pay for his pricey haircuts. So, if these information gateways aren’t operating purely to make money, who are they operating for?
Searching out Incentives
Going back to Hannity, whom you may or (probably) may not like, his show presents a unique opportunity to peek behind the curtain. When he began looking into allegations that Seth Reich, a DNC employee, was part of the DNC leaks, (implying his death may have been murder), advertisers began to pull out, forcing him to stop covering a story he promised to get to the bottom of. While private companies have every right to pull ads from content they deem inappropriate, upon taking a closer look, you’ll see these ads are managed by Media Matters, a company owned by billionaire activist George Soros. Could he single-handedly use his influence to force the anchor to ditch the story? Whether you believe this narrative or not, it’s clearly possible that this subtle tactic of coercion could successfully shut down an explosive story. If one Billionaire can stop the biggest cable news network in the world from pursuing a story that threatened to expose the underbelly of the political process, what else could be hidden through intimidation and omission?
Take another example, Twitter. While the service is hugely popular, unlike Facebook, it has failed to make any money, even after being injected with billions. If you were a rational investor, you would be angry. Unless you didn’t really care about the money. Who doesn’t care about money? Twitter’s biggest stakeholder, Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, was recently arrested (and is currently being held) for money laundering. The Saudi Royal family is estimated to be worth over $1 Trillion, an amount no one could ever spend. If you don’t invest to earn, you must be after something you don’t already have. Money is simply a tool to acquire things you want. Money can buy you lifestyle, but that isn’t necessarily power and influence. Power and influence can, however, be bought through controlling a company that has both. Why else would Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, buy the Washington Post, a company bleeding money as online competitors suck up market share. What the Post and Twitter have in common, is the ability to control information, craft narratives, and shut down dissent.
Saying Hasta la Vista to Ads
We recognize the widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of news due to the influence of advertisers. Subsequently, the recent focus on clickbait headlines to entice readers and earn revenue has begun to wear on readers. By using tokens instead of “karma” or other non-monetary incentives, we can create an environment where news can be more honestly reported, and the best content, as opposed to the most clickworthy content is supported and upvoted. This system keeps journalists accountable to the people, instead of corporations (like Bezos’ Amazon), allowing journalists to operate more independently and freely.
Tokenization could also lead to the globalization of news, offering unique and international perspectives on issues, supported by global crowdfunding. By watching ads, we trade time (our most valuable asset) for services whose costs would be infinitesimal at a global scale. One of the best ways to fight fake news, is to directly support our favorite authors, writers, podcasters, musicians, artists, and content creators directly.
With cryptocurrency mining, it may even be possible to pay for these services with a piece of hardware that validates blockchain transactions. The free tokens rewarded for powering the network would give consumers the option to trade their time (watching ads), for a machine’s time (as it powers transactions around the globe). Cryptocurrencies can support a free press by harnessing the power of free markets.