Blockchains & Digital Disinformation
We live in an era of information warfare, and tamperproof systems like blockchains are important to harden against it.
Our consensus understanding of reality is eroding as a society. This is dangerous. The internet and social media, while revolutionary, have also made it for malicious parties to push their disinformation-based agendas successfully with minimal expense. Blockchains cannot prevent all of this, but it is important see them as what they are: tamper-proof, public historical records.
In the wake of the success of the Dastardly Ducks, a number of ill-informed conspiracy theories formed based around misconceptions like the OpenSea volume traded and the cost of minting NFTs. Though the historical records of all of this information is easily accessible through Etherscan, it did not stop swarms of people online from deciding they had figured out something clever they had not.
This disinformation largely spread on social media sites for a reason — what is interesting, entertaining, and satisfying wins out over what is rooted in reality. Social media is not going anywhere, and that is probably an overall net gain for humanity. But we must find better ways to tie the narratives online to verifiable information. Blockchains will help immensely with that.
Before the widespread adoption of blockchain technology, many cryptography enthusiasts used PGP — “pretty good privacy” — encryption key pairs to sign messages to verify their authenticity. With the public key of the key pair, which the author can publish in verified sources, one can verify the message is legitimate. The private key pair is then kept secret to sign messages.
Blockchains may be seen by most — even by many of its users — as a tool for digital currencies, but even more profoundly they are a tool of this sort of provenance. This is why art theft in NFTs, while a problem, go against the very technology it seeks to exploit. The work should ideally point back to verified creators and smart contracts — which are cryptographically secure from tampering.
It is no surprise that an early enterprise use of blockchains has become on-chain custody tracking of real world goods where regulation and fraud are issues of concern. For example, legal cannabis often requires thorough tracking from growhouse to sale. By putting tamper-proof custodial records on the blockchain, important matters of truth can be established.
We live in an information of information warfare often conducted on behalf of state actors — the influence of Russian bots and trolls online is commonly cited, for instance. In warfare, the only way to counter new innovations in offense is with new innovations in defense, and blockchains can be a tool to harden us against the distortion of reality.
None of this is to portray blockchain technology as a panacea to our problems of disinformation. But when trying to form consensus about reality as a society, having immutable records of the past is of huge help. While fraud and forgery might not always be immediately noticeable in every context, by examining the data on chain, we can establish so much conclusively.
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