Skin in the Game: Prediction Markets and the Future of Media Discourse

Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

If talk was cheap before, then the laws of supply and demand mean the advent of big data drove that value to zero. So overwhelmed with opinions are we that it is hard to know who means what anymore.

This is not entirely a bad thing. Social media gave a voice to many previously without platform and in many ways actually took us back to our original relationship with news. In the olden days, someone told us something at the local parlour or promenade, and we would then express our own opinion and share the news with others. This was changed by the advent of the printing press, when news became centralised. ‘News’ companies emerged in every iteration of media innovation, through the newspaper (Hearst Publishing), radio (RCA), television and the internet (Google, Facebook, Twitter).

Social media

However, while in the town square anyone could stand on a box and begin lecturing, we would at least know who was expressing the opinion. When we look at Twitter, although we can see if an account is verified, we don’t have such security for its retweets, which could come from a series of bot accounts – and that’s only the beginning of problematic reliability, from shady sources to unspoken interests. This impacts our ability to decipher the signal from the noise. Anonymity, literally or through crowds, breeds the potential for bad actors, as well as those with honest intentions spreading misleading information due to simple confirmation bias.

Blockchain solutions:

This is what makes prediction markets enabled with cryptocurrency so compelling, by giving calculable weight and conviction to a belief. If I can simply express an opinion and delete it later, this is not presently weighted for in social discourse online and gives rise to trolling and other forms of frivolous or even insidious expressions. While not a panacea for the predicament, crypto-enabled markets can at least begin to allow discourse online to move away from mob mentalities, allowing individuals to put a figure on how much they are actually willing to bet on an idea.

A system that therefore means people quite literally put their money where their mouths are can be used a benchmark of how seriously committed they are to the expression of a view. Not that all online discourse needs to be this way, but rather it serves as an immutable litmus test.

News prosumers:

Alvin Toffler’s work from 1970s future shock foresaw the rise of the prosumer – that of the dual consumer and producer. We have already seen this play out in the business models of everyone from Google to Spotify. Every search on Google incrementally improves the algorithm, and each playlist created improves Spotify’s ability to serve their users music they like. People are not presently paid for this service, at least outside of conventional advertising. Blockchain solutions, through the use of micropayments, would allow the utility of information to be quantified and upvoted through tokens, a method already employed by the crypto-new service Steemit.

For now, online discourse remains replete with heavy words so lightly thrown. Predictions markets, however, are at least the beginning of a solution to how we mentally weight the intensity of the opinions beaming from our devices.

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