To blockchain enthusiasts, the recent shutdown of Zebpay, India’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, might feel like one more nail in the coffin of their beloved technology. The move — which came in the aftermath of the RBI’s ban five months ago, of the provision of financial services to crypto-based businesses — signals increased scepticism about an oft ill-understood but widely hyped technology.
One start-up, however, is convinced that blockchain can help restore sustainable and ethical practices to one of the world’s oldest professions — journalism.
“The twin crises of trust and sustainability for journalism are only getting worse,” writes Vivian Schiller, CEO of Civil Foundation, the non-profit arm of Civil, the Brooklyn-based start-up that plans to launch a “decentralised marketplace” for news by the end of this month. Civil is a protocol, say its founders, and it will make way for a platform that moves away from the middleman-reliant Facebook and Twitter models of news consumption — one that is free of advertisers’ influence.
Make news great again
Alarmed by the spread of misinformation and by the takeover of legacy newsrooms by billionaires with no experience in media (the most recent high-profile acquisition was the purchase of TIME by Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com), Civil will host journalistic content, clustered together into “newsrooms”. Blockchain technology will power the platform, enabling the foolproof archiving of all content that is uploaded.
While all media published by newsrooms will be available to the public, journalists and content consumers can express their views and help shape the community by using CVL tokens, a uniquely-designed cryptocurrency which went on sale on September 15. If a reader wishes to challenge any content published by a newsroom (because it is unethical or false, for instance), she may do so by staking her tokens. Other users can then vote for or against this “challenge” by using their own tokens. Alan Soon and Rishad Patel, co-founders of the Singapore-based media company Splice, believe in Civil’s mission. Not only have they committed to running their newsroom on the Civil platform once it is launched, but they also recently announced a $1 million partnership, aimed at creating 100 new media start-ups in Asia over the next three years.
“Civil takes a network approach to solving some of the key problems in media, which is exactly what the industry needs,” says Soon. The fund, according to Patel, will provide pre-seed, micro investments to “help founders prototype their ideas in a model that values decentralisation”.
If you take a look at Civil’s website, or join their Telegram group, you will find hours of reading material about how the model aims to make journalism more sustainable and ethical. On Telegram, the co-founders field questions such as “How can you guarantee that token-based voting powers will not be abused by one person or group?” The answer is, “There is a Civil Constitution that prevents bad guys from dominating.”
While Civil can only be judged for success once it is launched, legacy news institutions are already expressing interest in the underlying technology. In late August, the Associated Press announced that it would partner with Civil to help ensure that the news agency’s content is licensed legally by other organisations.
As Vivian Schiller wrote in a Medium blog post, the start-up aims to “become a Netflix” for journalists and media consumers. With over $1 million worth of tokens already sold, The Civil Registry — a list of community-approved newsrooms — will be announced a week after the sale ends on October 15, signalling the launch of Civil.
For more information on how to apply for funding, email firstname.lastname@example.org.