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Vitalik Buterin Proposes Ether Staking To Combat Fake News, Spam, And Scams




Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin offered some ideas on use cases for cryptoeconomics and staking mechanisms at the Asia-Pacific Ethereum Community Meetup.

On February 25, 2018, attendees to the Asia-Pacific Ethereum Community Meetup gathered to hear Ethereum's creator and co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, speak about the many scams plaguing the internet today.

Buterin would know. His Twitter account has been mimicked countless times in what he quipped to be an "attack of the clones" that claim users who send them Ether will be rewarded. Last year, a hoax report circulated that Buterin had passed away in a car accident. The young programmer also mentioned a rumor that he had been arrested in some dark corner of Russia at one point, held prisoner in a dank cell.

Buterin said that there are different ways we can go about fixing the problem, some less beneficial than others. Among the "bad ways of solving these problems," Buterin named centralized authorities and more restricted or gated online communities.

"These could theoretically solve part of the problem but given that we are the crypto-community and we're here for decentralization, we clearly don't really see any of these being particularly interesting," said Buterin.

He suggested the use of cryptoeconomic techniques to design something he hopes will provide a better solution. In one of Buterin's examples, he proposed staking collateral onto messages to combat spam. 

Going beyond email spam, Buterin said that large online communities also have trust issues. On Twitter, validation in the form of bots liking and retweeting a scammer's post is often part of an elaborate ruse designed to part users with their cryptocurrencies or spread false information.

Buterin called it a "pretty sophisticated kind of shilling army" and acknowledged that people can often identify the shills and shut them down. He questioned how that information could be turned into "knowledge that people reading Twitter can use in order to determine very quickly whether or not the tweets that they're reading are scams."

Buterin proposed a prediction market as a source of moderation for social platforms like Twitter via a second layer solution. The mechanism would rest atop the existing service and operate like a plugin, application, or dapp that allows anyone to cast a vote for or against a message by staking an amount of Ether to their vote.

The second layer voting mechanism he proposed would be linked to an AI program or panel of decentralized professional moderators that occasionally judges the integrity of a particular vote's outcome. If consensus decides a post is a scam, up-voters would be punished and lose their staked Ether, and vice versa for those posts judged valid. According to Buterin, only around one percent of the tweets voted on need to be judged, so the majority of tweets wouldn't be seen by the moderation panel (or AI).

This isn't intended to be a marketplace where people make money by voting on tweets, but merely a mechanism to ensure that rational behavior will take place among voters on the platform. It's not expected that the amounts of Ether being staked will be exorbitant.

There are still some issues with the second layer suggestion: Blockchains don't currently scale to meet the demand of the system Buterin proposed, and as a result, transaction fees may have a malignant effect on the predictive powers of the platform.

Unless someone actually decides to build and test it, Buterin's second layer use case will remain speculative.

Jeremy Nation

Jeremy Nation is a writer living in Los Angeles with interests in technology, human rights, and cuisine.

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