AdBlock Plus Creator Builds Extension to Rate News Trustworthiness Using Blockchain Tech

News site labels to include 'biased,' 'satire' and 'clickbait'

The tool is meant to combat sources of misinformation like Alex Jones' conspiracy-mongering Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Kulp

The German software maker behind the world’s most popular ad blocker is turning its attention to fake news.

AdBlock Plus parent Eyeo released a browser extension on Wednesday that will rate the credibility of any given news site through a database fed by an assortment of fact-checking organizations, including Snopes and Politifact. The program is still in its early testing phase, but the company is working with project partner MetaCert Protocol to migrate it onto the Ethereum blockchain, where users can earn reward tokens for providing their own feedback on news outlets.

Ben Williams, Eyeo’s senior director of ecosystems, said the tool is a passion project for the company’s programmers, and Eyeo has no plans of monetizing it or incorporating the same pay-for-play whitelist scheme it uses for its ad blocker.

“It fits in with the other things we do at Eyeo in the sense that it puts users in control of their web experience,” Williams said. “With all of these things, people are equipping themselves with tools to help them understand the wild wild West that is the internet.”

In its current form, the TrustedNews extension assigns one of several labels upon visiting a news site. Those it considers generally fact-based with relatively neutral politics get a green checkmark for “trustworthy,” while sites that willfully traffic in misinformation are marked with a red “X” for “untrustworthy.” Other potential designations include “biased,” “satire” and “clickbait.”

The tag for bias—perhaps the most subjective of the set—seems to take a fairly narrow view of which sites have political slant, and it may not always be entirely consistent. For instance, Breitbart and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze are understandably considered biased, but Fox News, conservative journal National Review and overtly liberal blog Daily Kos are not.

Williams acknowledges the current classification system leaves much to be desired. The plan is to eventually expand it to include more nuances, like where exactly a site lies on a left-right political spectrum and more gradients of bias.

“I can’t stress enough that this is our first humble attempt that we’re making, and we want to test it and see if people like it,” Williams said.

The extension will begin incorporating user feedback into the ratings as early as next week through a system built by anti-fraud URL registry MetaCert Protocol, a partner on the project, Williams said. Until then, labels are determined through a majority consensus of information from Snopes, Poltifact, Wikipedia and Zimdars’ List. Eyeo hopes to have the entire program hosted on blockchain within a couple months.

Tools designed to make sense of the chaotic and misinformation-heavy digital media-sphere have proliferated since the 2016 presidential election, highlighting just how easy it is to spread political hoaxes, propaganda and fake stories online. But the subjective nature of characterizing bias and the vast array of ever-changing media sources make it difficult to create a definitive and comprehensive guide. Eyeo is hoping blockchain’s transparent and egalitarian nature can help overcome these challenges.

@patrickkulp Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.