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Asociación Técnica de Diarios Latinoamericanos
Boletín Semanal Septiembre 18, 2018

Thanks to new ways of using blockchain technology in publishing, authors can bypass authorities when reporting uncomfortable truth. But the absence of fact-checkers can take disinformation to a whole new level

Although a lot of people use 'blockchain' as a synonym to bitcoin, the possibilities this tech offers go far beyond cryptocurrencies.

In its core, blockchain is a decentralised database of data where nothing can be added or modified without the consent of all the participants.

which describes itself as a non-profit foundation, uses blockchain technology to create a new, decentralised environment for content publishing. Their aim is to bypass centralised management of the media sector and give authors the freedom to publish their content without any external intervention. As a bonus, blockchain technology helps authors retain copyright and monetise their work.

Publiq is founded on blockchain, which means no one can modify content at any stage of its publishing and sharing. Dr. Christian de Vartavan, adviser and global ambassador at Publiq, compares the principle of blockchain technology to an old-fashioned bill spike: you pile up the bills by sticking them on the spike one by one, and you can’t remove or modify any of the previous bills unless you take everything off, which is simply impossible with blockchain.

In the world of publishing, this means that it is impossible to make any changes — by mistake or on purpose — to the content once it is published.

Another important feature of the blockchain technology is that content is not stored on one centralised website where it is vulnerable to, say, a cyberattack, but in decentralised accumulators, which makes any modification impossible because there are simply too many of them.

According to Publiq, this technology has the potential to bring more transparency to the publishing process, given that data about all participants are stored in the blockchain. They hope this will dissuade content creators from posting fake news, as all information about anything one publishes will be stored in the blockchain. Forever.

Finally, the platform also offers a conditional unit that works a bit like cryptocurrency, called PBQ. You cannot use it to pay online but its function is to divide any revenue from advertising amongst all participants.

So who participates in content creation on Publiq?

This is how it works: nodes, who provide services of a validator, mine new PBQs according to their stake in Publiq. They also provide an information that a new element, for example an article, has been imported to the blockchain.

Then, information goes to seeders who use their hard disk space to store Publiq content. The content then gets distributed via channels that can simply be news websites. Channels do not have the possibility to change any information but can filter content they want to display for their readers, i.e. by topic, date, number of likes, etc.

Once content is published, companies can place an advert and pay in PBQs that will then be distributed to all parties involved: authors, seeders, and nodes.

One of the main advantages of this system is that those wanting to publish an article don’t need to work with journalists or an established media organisation to get their message out. Instead, they can just create their own channel and publish anything they want, in any language and on any topic.

This freedom is a double-edged sword though. On the one hand, authors can publish content that would otherwise be censored by the authorities —think reports on corruption or organised crime.

However, in the absence of sub-editors and fact-checkers, anything and everything can be published without the possibility to take the content down, even if ordered by a judge.

You cannot edit any typos or factual mistakes, although the platform allows publishing an update that will be added to the original content.

Publiq hopes that ‘fake news’ will be weeded out by the users, who can choose which content channels they follow and anyone can check at any time who posted the article, as the origin of the information is stored in the blockchain.

However, it remains unclear what incentive there is for the reader to do their homework and verify the content, other than wanting to know the truth. A number of studies showed that some people have tendency to believe fake news more than others, and more than half of social media users are happy to share content they haven’t even read.

Although the prospect of a censor-free publishing platform that gives authors the possibility to directly monetise their content is appealing, it may still fail on its main component — the human factor. Because ultimately, it is human readers, not the computers, who decide what to believe.