Why David Garrity Wants to Use Blockchain to Fix Twitter

To combat the rise of fake accounts, Garrity believes Twitter should turn to blockchain technology in order to boost the verification process.

Leah Zitter
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What if there was a Twitter blockchain where you could download your own token and use it to verify your identity? With a system like this in place, all Twitter users would be who they claim to be, and all of their opinions would be their own. Recently, David Garrity recommended this type of blockchain solution on Bloomberg radio.

Garrity currently works as the CEO of crypto asset finance consultancy, GVA Research. Garrity also consults for The World Bank Group on mobile technology and serves on the Board of Directors of BTCS Inc., a publicly-held U.S. company involved with digital assets and blockchain technology.

Holding these positions, Garrity has first-hand knowledge of blockchain’s uses and applications.

The Problem with Twitter

Back in March, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey found that 70 million Twitter accounts impersonated identities of famous people and/or organizations. What’s more, at least 48 accounts pretended to be U.S. newspapers spreading their own news. In the beginning, these infiltrators fed readers accurate local reports.

Closer to the 2016 election, these information operatives working out of the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg slanted news in favor Donald J. Trump. Examples of fake handles include @ElPasoTopNews, @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews and @Seattle_Post. Some accounts, like the Chicago Daily News, were entirely false.

Between March and May, the company dismantled 70 million accounts, roughly 21% of its 336 million monthly active users. The company also hired social media analytics company SocialRank to build an algorithm for Twitter that distinguishes true accounts from false. Earlier this month, SocialRank CEO Alex Taub told NBC News that the journey has been far from easy.

“We keep buying fake followers,” Taub said, “and then we go to make the formula and basically two-thirds of these followers are gone.”

Additionally, fake accounts spring up as old one are removed. Just last week, an anonymous Twitter user fooled thousands into believing that Harley-Davidson's CEO Matthew Levatich called Donald Trump a "moron." The false information was retweeted more than 35,000 times, including by prominent Twitter users like author Stephen King.

Garrity’s Solution: Twitter Blockchain

Shake any branch and, sooner or later, blockchain's bound to tumble out as a suggested solution. While Garrity agrees that blockchain is overrated, he insists that blockchain technology is Twitter’s best option to the problems plaguing the site. “Blockchain would verify user identity when accounts are opened and also to update that record as new posts are added,” notes Garrity.

Because blockchain uses cryptography, the technology enables users to plug in permissions for who can access their accounts. It also helps users input commands that prevent bots from from impersonating famous individuals or companies, and from spreading misleading accounts in their name.

Right now, Twitter has a verified accounts project in place to authenticate certain identities. Accounts of public interest have blue verified badges attached to their profiles, and next to the account names in search results. Verified accounts include people involved in government, politics, religion, journalism, media, music, acting, sports, and business.

Accounts that don’t have the badge next to their name but display it somewhere else such as the profile photo, header photo, or bio, are not verified accounts. Blockchain would boost security by verifying the identities of every account on Twitter. There would no longer be impersonators, and you could trust the authenticity of handles like @MilwaukeeVoice, @CamdenCityNews, and @Seattle_Post.

The time-stamping encryption features of blockchain would automate the process, relieving Twitter from spending money and time on devising algorithms to screen out fake news from true. Because Twitter is naturally a distributed network, it plays well into the decentralized distributed technology of blockchain.

According to Garrity, “This is because you have many parties who are actually interested in establishing and affirming and upholding the veracity of what’s going across social media platforms. It’s easier to Twitter to consider a blockchain application.”

How Blockchain Twitter Would Work

“My concept here,” Garrity explains, “is that Twitter would develop a utility token which users would have to employ to access their platform.” On one hand, Twitter wants to retain and build its number of followers. To do this, it needs to carry on convincing users that its site imposes few rules and regulations. On the other hand, Twitter also needs to persuade its users that only real people are using its platform.

“If they wanted to adopt a solution that allows a better tracking and verification around what activities are taking place on their site, blockchain, more than anything else, has possible application and value.”

David Garrity isn’t the first to recommend blockchain for social media. A few months ago, IBM insisted blockchain would not only patch Facebook’s issues of privacy, but also help Facebook with its problem of fake news and Russian-funded political ads. In April, Facebook announced new policies requiring political advertisers to verify their identities and locations.

That’s something blockchain technology could readily do with its incontrovertible timestamping encryption prowess. “Blockchain technology fits very well with some of the business model challenges that social media is facing,” said Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President of IBM’s global industries, platforms, and blockchain.

“We would then control our own identities, versus somebody controlling our data today, which I think is very powerful.” Last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned that cyber threat warnings are “blinking red” with daily attempts by Russia and other foreign actors trying to undermine American democracy.

“If this is what the Russians have done now,” Garrity cautions, “the main question becomes what are they going to do on an ongoing basis?” It’s time, he insists, to contemplate a Twitter blockchain.