Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The world has made significant shifts in the past 100 years, with trust increasingly placed in the hands of third-party institutions, the Internet and even social media. With the rise of disruptive technologies, we are facing challenges, from hacking to the proliferation of fake news sites. As a result, our very trust fabric is being unravelled and compromised.

A classic example that made the news at the end of 2017 involved a journalist who tricked the review site TripAdvisor into nominating his garden shed as London’s hottest new restaurant. With the help of friends, the phony restaurateur used multiple fake positive reviews to climb the ranks. This deliberate attempt at fooling the public exploited society’s misguided belief in any information presented at face value.

Social media is shaping audience perception in a significant way and even dictating the political Zeitgeist. This presents a huge problem for communicators. With clear communication underpinned by trust, communicators rely on credible sources of information in order to remain relevant.  Many are now hailing the introduction of blockchain technology as the next logical step in reconfiguring the trust fabric. Blockchain is a digital ledger within a decentralised network. Without any compromise in security, it creates a single point of accuracy, regulated by multiple sources of verification, where users can have a secure and transparent means to log, track and share data across any industry. The technology is therefore a possible gold mine for marketers and communicators wishing to capitalise on credibility.

Blockchain technology offers the truth and nothing but the truth

One way to tackle the fake news conundrum could be to create a global list of fake news sites within blockchain technology. Once these sites have been identified and verified, they can be combatted and omitted. This concept is already in action as a Warsaw-based startup called Userfeeds, which is aiming to stop fake news in its tracks by linking blockchain to social content. By using a token system, they are attempting to put a stop to fake news once and for all by offering a financial incentive to rank content appropriately. In this way social media users have the power to cultivate credible news stories by using and even exchanging tokens to rank high-quality news content in order to filter out fake news from real news.

Digital advertising is another area that is facing the pitfalls of fake news sites and nonlive browsers. In fact, advertising company WPP has stated that losses through wasted ad placement could have accounted for as much as US$16.4bn globally in 2017. And because programmatic buying largely involves systematic bots and minimal human checks, having a solution such as blockchain to record the fake sites may be a way to reduce that wastage.

The Pacific island of Yap used an ancient currency in the form of large carved-out circular stones that were passed on over generations as a form of family wealth.  The value of this “stone currency” was determined by the amount of work its owner had placed into the strenuous exercise of carving out the stone. Central to this system was the fact that there was no third-party intermediary or “bank” to play a role in the ownership process. Instead, ownership was determined by oral means underpinned by a central concept of trust. Everyone simply knew who owned which stone and how much it was worth.

The islanders of Yap were clearly on to something when they established a societal currency system underpinned by trust. Through blockchain technology, entire industries will survive and thrive despite the radical changes that have come along with technological innovation. Communicators can now comfortably combat the surge of fake sites through the modern-day trust fabric – blockchain technology. Ironically, we need to go back to the basics despite today’s technological advancement.

• Carrie Daly is technology practice lead at Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

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