Stefano de Alessandri, chief of Italy’s Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) newswire, had a problem in early April: Fraudsters were publishing fake COVID-19 articles that masqueraded as his.
These articles looked like ANSA’s. Riding on the branding of Italy’s largest wire service, they wove tales, mostly phony ones, of the Italian government’s coronavirus response. It was a threat to public information. Worse, it was an assault on ANSA’s perception of credibility.
“We had people calling us to say, ‘Why have you published this? Is this true? Are you sure?,’” de Alessandri said of the last three weeks. If readers fell for these stories he worried they might lose faith in the ANSA brand.
ANSA had its answer ready for launch: A blockchain registration system called “ANSAcheck” that stamps legitimate articles with traceable, irrefutable proof an article is among the 3,000 ANSA distributes to its 24 shareholder publishers and 87 news partners every day.
ANSAcheck, which uses the Ethereum blockchain to store this data, debuted on April 9 to combat fake coronavirus news.
Why a blockchain?
Though ANSA deployed ANSAcheck during the zenith of medical misinformation, it had begun designing the system a year before in partnership with Ernst & Young (EY). The hope was that a distributed ledger could be used to rebut the wider scourge of fake and copycat news stories.
ANSAcheck registers vital details including an article’s title, timestamp, content hash, ID and publication event on the Ethereum blockchain. It makes this information available through a little green graphic emblazoned at the bottom of nearly every newly published piece on the site.
Readers see this “story of the story” by clicking that ANSAcheck logo, and the true details by clicking through to the certificate, where the transaction’s Block Height, Transaction Hash, Block ID are stored. Most ANSA readers might not understand this jumbled mush of foreign tech concepts, but to…