Web3 is anticipated to be the third iteration of the web, which provides a new way for users to engage with online media. These decentralised systems are expected to become far more prevalent in the next decade, with elements or ideas of web3 being implemented into many online organisations. For journalists and news organisations, this could mean a new way of reporting, fact checking, generating revenue and engaging with communities.

Dr Gavin Woods, co-founder of blockchain protocol Ethereum, was the first to coin the term web3. In simple terms, web3 is software based on blockchain technology, which is ‘distributed’ and not reliant on a central server. All data on blockchain platforms is completely transparent and available to all.

For some, such as Elon Musk, web3 is no more than a “marketing buzzword,” while others believe it to be the future of the internet.

Brothers, Jens and Hans Brorsen (pictured in the same order), are the co-founders of The Daily Ledger, a start-up using blockchain technology to fight disinformation in online publications. They consider web3 to be a new and better way for people to move in an online space, which is already being put into practice by some well-known brands.

An example of this would be .Swoosh, a web3 platform created by Nike, which lets members create virtual outfits through the use of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). NFT’s are a form of distributed, cryptographic tokens that hold a unique value. These NFT’s can be traded between users of .Swoosh, allowing them to create their own individual personas.

What can web3 do for journalism?

Currently, Hans works as a research fellow for the European Blockchain Centre and has conducted research on how news organisations could leverage blockchain technology. He describes web3 as “a perfect way for news publishers to enter the new era,” and believes that this software will provide new tech solutions for the media industry.

Web3 is already being used by some news publications, such as TIME Magazine, who launched their very first decentralised magazine issue in 2022. This is the first ever magazine to be published on the blockchain, which uses NFTs to allow easy access to content and build community. Keith A. Grossman, the President of TIME, described the magazine as “the natural extension” of their brand.

This is just the beginning of web3 use in the media, with the technology having the potential to be taken much further.  “There are a couple of web3 or blockchain based tools you could apply to news publishers,” said Jens when asked what the possible use-cases of web3 applications for news organisations are. “You have crypto wallets, NFTs, DAOs – or decentralised autonomous organisations – and then you have the proof of provenance.”

One of the key elements of web3 is a user-centric experience. This experience has no need for a central platform, such as Twitter or YouTube, to mediate peer-to-peer interactions. From this, users are able to create their own online identity as seen with .Swoosh. Web3 also allows for ‘ownership’ of digital assets like The TIME’s Magazine. Ideas from these software’s can be applied to journalism and create a new way for news to be consumed. 

A way to attract younger audiences and create loyalty

“We see web3 as a tool or tools to engage younger audiences or basically bring back younger audiences from social media to the news publisher and also as a tool to fight disinformation,” said Hans.

Currently, 64% of Generation Z consume their news through at least one social media channel each day. Web3 technology would help to bring these audiences back to traditional publications and create loyalty for these organisations.

NFTs are an example of web3 technology that could be used to achieve this. These unique tokens rely on the blockchain to give them an individual value, which could reshape the way online transactions are made. Imagine a digital photograph where you could create the same ‘value’ as an original print or analogue film negative.

“Research shows that NFTs create an emotional connection and long-lasting brand identification with the NFT that you own,” said Hans. “We think that NFT’s could allow brands to create loyalty programmes.”

Recently, well-known brands, such as Starbucks, have been exploring the possibilities of NFTs. Starbucks is one of the first companies to integrate NFT’s into an industry leading loyalty scheme. They achieve this by creating an immersive experience where customers can engage with one another and claim an ownership stake in their loyalty to the company.

Hans and Jens believe that NFT’s can be used in a similar way to boost the engagement of online publications.

“You could start collecting NFTs that the publishers give out, or you could get them from being a loyal customer, for having a one-year, two-year anniversary for your subscription. There are all sorts of benefits you could attach to loyalty NFTs, which would result in an increased engagement and loyalty from customers.”

Web3 could also boost a publication’s engagement through the use of Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs). These are blockchain-based systems that allow people to organise themselves around a specific interest.

For traditional news publishers, it would be possible to implement DAO’s into their platforms to create virtual communities for readers. These readers would then be able to orientate themselves around a common cause and have the opportunity to take some editorial control over content. Transparent voting could be established, which would allow readers to select the type of material they wanted to see using democratic systems. From here, the organisation could either publish these stories following the suggestions of the subscribers, or the community could use the finances in the DAO and work together to create these projects themselves.

By doing this, readers could participate and engage more actively with the publication. Hans said: “There have been some experiments from publishers where people could vote on what kind of news stories or investigations should get into the next newspaper magazine, and they have seen a huge increase in subscribers because people thought it was super cool.

“These findings could also be leveraged by news organisations implementing DAO´s. This could be a transparent way of people voting for editorial content.”

Younger audiences gravitate towards social media as a source of news due to the engagement and participation it provides, unlike that of traditional publications. Web3 software could help to create new and different opportunities for media organisations to share content in the age of the internet.

Web3 and the fight against disinformation

Disinformation is another challenge to the media industry that web3 could help provide a solution for. The use of social media as a way of consuming news means that people are far more exposed to fake news. In 2019, 86% percent of global citizens believed that they had been exposed to fake news and 86% of those citizens believed the news to be true upon their initial reading.

Furthermore, in a recent opinion, the Guardian warned about fake articles created with ChatGPT which are circulating on the web and causing confusion as it seems impossible to verify their authenticity.

Web3 could provide new tools for content verification and fact-checking. The brothers believe that one of the solutions to fight disinformation lies in web3 technology. Using this software, Hans and Jens have created as software solution called the Media Authenticity Protocol.

“The mission of our company is to fight disinformation, and as we explained earlier, bring back audiences to the newspapers themselves.”

This forms the basis of the Media Authenticity Protocol. Their software will enable publications to ensure readers are receiving accurate, and credible information. This is done by using the blockchain as an accessible method of verification.

Hans explains that “The blockchain is transparent so everybody from all over the world with any computer can check whether this information was actually stored on the blockchain. The idea is you can verify whether a news publisher actually published such a news article.”

The Media Authenticity Protocol stores metadata information about a news article on the blockchain and is described as a “completely censor-proof,” method of validating news stories. This metadata also contains a cryptographic fingerprint of the news content. As a result, users are empowered to check the provenance and authenticity of the news that they are consuming for themselves by simply clicking a link.

“What we try to promote is transparency. Everyone can review the provenance and authenticity of articles or news content online, both on third party websites but also on native websites too.” said Jens.

As web3 becomes more prevalent in the online space, and news publishers continue to experiment, current prototypes such as the Media Authenticity Protocol could provide ways for publications to take advantage of the facilities web3 has to offer.

There are countless opportunities for web3 to be applied to media organisations, which should be taken advantage of. To stay present in the online space, it is important for journalists to realise the potential of web3 and, learn how to expand with it.

Web3 will be one of the many topics on the programme of the WAN-IFRA World News Media Congress taking place in Taiwan from 28 to 30 June this year ! Read more about how web3 experiments are being applied to news publishers here: What publishers can learn from first news media web3 experiments

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