How can readers tell fact from fiction?
Fake news threatens trust in media. Research by MIT Media Lab found that “lies disseminate farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth and falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth.”1 On a wider level, disinformation “diminishes the quality of democracy. It saps trust in democratic institutions, distorts electoral processes and fosters incivility and polarization online,” according to an EU report.2
Truth vs falsehood in media70%
more likely for falsehood to be retweeted than the truth.
For the traditional media, fake news poses a threat to the legitimacy of the stories that news agencies write and distribute, which can undermine the reputation that news agencies and outlets are keen to sustain and preserve.
One such agency is Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), the #1 news agency in Italy.3 Headquartered in Rome, ANSA, whose members and owners are leading news organizations, and its mission is the distribution of fair and objective news reporting.
ANSA wanted to take a stand and innovate their way of working and promoting content to preserve their legacy in the industry, providing their readers a warranty of their quality.
They asked, “How can we ensure trust in the origin of the news we read?”
Use technology unexpectedly to innovate business
ANSA approached EY with the objective of creating an innovative solution to support tracking of the origin of their stories, and for that story to be traced through its entire history of updates and reposts on third-party news websites.
EY teams proposed using blockchain, which is typically used to prevent tampering in financial transactions and to track assets. With a deep understanding of the applications and technology, the team wondered, “Why couldn’t blockchain apply to news stories too?”
To put this to the test, EY teams built a proof-of-concept using the EY OpsChain Traceability solution. When an editor publishes a news story it’s fed into the system automatically, with its ID and publication details in a block that is made immutable through notarization on blockchain. (ANSA can also push a modification event in case of any changes or corrections that need to be made post-publication.) When a story is published online, it is given an “ANSACheck” sticker and readers can click on this to see who has written it and republished it.
EY teams and ANSA also created an opportunity to publicize the blockchain solution as part of a live neuroscience experiment at wavespace™ in Rome. EY teams connected different stakeholders – from policymakers to academic institutions – to discuss the social and economic impact of fake news and to test their perception of news stories. ANSA used an Implicit Association Test (IAT) and eye tracking to monitor the emotional reactions of 50 volunteers to five real and five fake news stories, and revealed which stories had provoked the greatest reactions.
From this, EY teams provided ANSA with a report outlining the test’s results and detailing what type of content, images and story length best engages an audience and drives sharing – techniques which distributors of fake news are highly skilled at deploying.
EY teams and ANSA also developed examples of leading practice writing and page-build approaches for various subject areas, which can be shared with ecosystem partners to increase the quality of their news, furthering the reach and raising the profile of bona fide stories.
Making news trustworthy
The proof-of-concept results led to ANSA deciding to scale the solution across its whole online business and discussions about expanding it beyond.
ANSACheck reaffirms trust in the news and the value of professional journalism. It enables readers to confirm that news origins are true and trusted, and drives a deeper understanding of the news process – which is particularly relevant if a story is controversial.
The solution has also enabled ANSA to create a new ecosystem-based business model with built-in trust, extending to each partner, which helps protect the reputations of multiple media brands. It also makes it more difficult for fake news to be shared; if a story is tampered with, it loses the ANSACheck sticker, and in doing so its validity cannot be assured.
The solution developed could be scaled and applied globally, and EY teams have had numerous inquiries from other news media companies worldwide.
Soon after launch, ANSACheck really came into its own during the first months of the pandemic. Lots of fake news stories about vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 were circulating, and many readers asked about the origin of some stories that mentioned ANSA as a source. ANSA was able, through ANSACheck, to confirm that the source of the stories was not authentic.
Overall, ANSACheck helps protect, deepen and re-affirm readers’ trust in the news. Which aligns perfectly to ANSA’s purpose of being a trusted source for news. The leveraging of blockchain technology also helps build a better working world.
- Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy and Sinan Aral, “The spread of true and false news online,” Science, vol 359(6380), 2018, pp ,1146-1,151.
- “The impact of disinformation on democratic processes and human rights in the world,” Think Tank European Parliament, accessed 2 February 2022.
- “Our numbers,” ANSA website, accessed 2 February 2022.
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