Cifler is a decentralized blockchain-based news platform where individuals can share videos highlighting important issues in their surroundings. Our platform, through blockchain technology, will allow them to bypass censorship and share events that are not portrayed in mainstream journalism in the goal of promoting worldwide awareness, transparency and free-speech.
Vitalii (Biotech), Antoine Dorard and Aurélien Giuglaris Michael (Data Science and AI)
Over het initiatief / About the initiative
In welke fase zit jouw initiatief? / In what stage is your initiative?
Heb je jouw initiatief al gevalideerd? / Did you validate your initiative?
We have not yet deployed our platform for others to use. However, we have reason to believe that it would be a viable platform. First, there has been a documented increase in open journalism whereby an increasing number of people are resorting to social media and other internet communication platforms to spread local news. Many platforms were created to meet this supply of citizen news like NewsFlare which matches video clips to interested news agencies. In that respect, the business model we are adopting has already been successfully validated. Furthermore, the human interactions that we have had regarding this project all gave us an idea of the validity of our project. After having our first Cifler Presentation where we discussed open journalism, we talked to the audience and discussed whether they would use the project. The students who had some local issues that weren’t addressed by local media were excited to use the platform and share their concerns. Lastly, we are trying to meet as many industry experts as possible to make our idea more viable. Recently, we had the opportunity to meet Dr. Paolo Balboni from our university with whom we discussed the current state of smart contracts as a legally binding document and other law-related details. He raised various concerns that we have to consider before launching the project. We will take his advice into account for our project and continue a back-and-forth dialogue with him on how to best validate our idea from a legal standpoint. We are also planning to meet with other experts across the university with a meeting set up with Dr. Marielle Wijermars (specialising in internet freedom, censorship of the press especially in Russia) to discuss the consequences of mitigating censorship and whether our project will have the impact we initially envisioned. All in all our project is still in the development phase but are constantly trying to steer it in the right direction by incorporating expert advice and the perspectives of our future users.
Meer informatie over jouw initiatief / More info about your initiative
The Slipper Revolution in Belarus was marked by excessive police brutality, torture and human rights violations against the peaceful population of protestors. The physical and psychological torture of detained activists become so severe that one protestor, Stephen Latypov, took a ballpoint pen and slit his own throat during his court hearing. Latypov’s case was heavily censored and twisted in narrative by the Belarusian media. However, someone in the courtroom took a video of the occurrence and shared it on telegram for others to see. On the same day, large news corporations (BCC, Guardian) picked up on the story and shared it across the world. This form of citizen journalism was crucial in allowing countless other stories to be shared regarding Belarus’ human rights violations;
The problem is many cases of human rights violations and other societal issues are undocumented around the world. This is either because of strict censorship and firewalls or a lack of journalistic presence in the area. Journalists might fear persecution from the government or feel reluctant to engage in war journalism. There might simply not be enough journalists to cover every event occurring in the region or perhaps the event took place very unexpectedly and not journalist was present at the time. In scenarios like these, we can no longer expect journalists to provide all of the information and it is up to the people to promote truth and raise awareness of their surrounding issues.
Cifler is a platform that is intent on providing individuals the ability to share their stories to the world. Specifically, it is a decentralized blockchain-based news website where users can upload videos anonymously while bypassing government restriction and censorship. To provide incentive to the users, Cifler is positioned as a marketplace for information whereby interested parties (news agencies, content creators) can search for videos on the platform and buy a license to use them for commercial purposes. Thus, Cifler aims to be a relay point for information – a modern way for anyone to become their local journalist and contribute to the ever growing understanding of the world.
The blockchain in Cifler is used as a ledger of ownership that pairs the user with the videos that they own. This ledger provides a legal basis to protect user’s video copyright and establish an ecosystem similar to most modern NFT marketplaces. The blockchain chosen for the project was Telos. Telos is one of the most decentralized blockchains in the world meaning that it has the most potential to offer censorship-resistant transactions. [Telos is the only third generation layer 1 blockchain to have never done an ICO (Initial Coin Offering) which significantly reduces influence from external parties.] Most importantly, however, is the fact that Telos requires no gas fees per transaction. Using other blockchain like ethereum would require users to pay every time they post, like or comment on the platform.
Cifler was created not just to promote awareness of human rights violations also the countless of cases of environmental damage, natural disasters and societal issues that go undocumented. In that respect, Cifler aims to become a relay point between the people who can record these events and those that want to take up these issues and make a difference. While the business aspect of the platform is geared to providing the videos to news agencies, the platform is set up so that anyone can have access to the videos and share them across the web. Cifler aims to record the world. To fill in the gaps of missing information and create a more transparent society. We believe in a world where individuals can share their voice despite all barriers, receive the support they require and contribute to an ever growing understanding of the world.
While the Cifler Platform is our tool of promoting free-speech and open journalism, we have also developed a student group at Maastricht University dedicated to raising awareness of these core values. Through the Cifler Project we are organizing education events, keynote speeches, sharing underreported stories from around the world in the goal of educating our community and encouraging others to take part in securing the freedom of information. In June, we organized our first event inviting two programmes across our faculty to attend a presentation about the role of blockchain in open journalism; sharing stories of Yue Xin and other inspirations.
We will continue to develop our community alongside our blockchain platform and hope that you can help us in our mission to
Record the World
Wat zijn jouw volgende stappen om het verder te ontwikkelen? / What are your next steps to develop the initiative?
There are two main ideas on how to develop our initiative moving forward – a human side and the technical side. Regarding the human aspect, we want to continue developing the community behind Cifler. We will organize more events to promote open journalism, the importance of free speech and raise awareness of key issues not documented by mainstream media. Furthermore, we want to increase our social media presence to keep our community informed on upcoming events and the newest developments to our blockchain platform. Social media will also give us access to an engaged user base that can provide feedback on the project and a pool of initial users for Cifler’s launch.
While social media and our community will give us a solid user base to promote the project, we would also need funding to make sure the project is sustained. In our case, we want to find sponsors for the project rather than investors because that creates less risk of corruption and damage to the project’s reputation. Since our project is highly political, it is important that it does not get influenced by financial matters or external pressures resulting from corporate structure, especially in the beginning. Thus, we will start asking different organizations for grants and sponsorships including Amnesty, the Open Society Foundation, Bellingcat etc. We are currently in an ongoing discussion with Enactus Maastricht and hope to secure launch funding. lastly, the Telos blockchain community has a grant for new decentralized applications hosted on their platform where they can provide cryptocurrency to cover the costs of running the project on their network. In that respect, we are looking for various channels to secure funding for our project before we reach a level where the project can fund itself.
Apart from monetary support, we also require significant mentorship in the field of business and law. While we are a team of technologists and blockchain-enthusiasts, we lack a solid understanding of how blockchain falls into the legal framework and the underlying implications to our user security. After our meeting with Dr. Paolo Balboni regarding the legal aspect of our project, we recognized to a greater extent the importance of other factors besides technology and funding that we have to consider to make our project successful. During the next steps of our project, we will be seeking more expert guidance to account for all details and make sure we are ready for launch. For instance, on the 5th of July we have a meeting with Dr. Marielle Wijermars (Russia censorship expert) with the intent of better understanding the underlying social implications of our project. As with Dr Wijermars, we look forward to meeting other industry experts, incorporating their varying perspectives and developing a more mature product.
On the technical side, as we finish v1 of the platform soon, we will commence working on v2. While vision 1 of Cifler provides users with base functionality of uploading videos and marketplace to sell them, version 2 will deal mostly with transitioning the platform to a community governance model and creating mechanisms to prevent the spreading of misinformation, copyrighted content and illegal material. A community-based model would mean that users check content for whether it is “news” or “not news” and flag videos that don’t follow community guidelines. In that respect, it is not the Cifler entity who is responsible for moderating the platform but rather the decentralised community of users. The Cifler Treasury, a bank of funds derived from a percentage of each video sale, will pay the moderators and incentivize them to secure the platform. Thus, while we currently have a marketplace for videos, the next steps would be creating mechanisms to protect the system from malicious intent by establishing a self-moderating community and restricting our ability as creators to censor content.
In general, there are many avenues we can take to develop our project further ranging from fixing legal concerns to improving our underlying technology. Cifler is constantly evolving and incorporating feedback from our community and various industry experts. In that respect, we hope to steer our project in the right direction and make a positive impact on the world.
Wat heb je nodig om (nog meer) impact te maken met dit initiatief? / What do you need to make (more) impact with this initiative?
To make more impact we need more expert guidance and visibility. Cifler uses new technologies that are evolving every day – specifically the blockchain. While after talking to Dr. Paolo Balboni we clarified that ricardian contracts count as a legal document, many other details need to be addressed. Decentralized autonomous organizations and community-governed platforms are also a very new development in modern computing so finding the right model for a platform is difficult. While we extensively do our own research to figure out how to make our platform successful, we will not be able to make the best choices without guidance from industry experts. The same idea applies to our business model as well† While we have a theoretical framework in place, we might have overlooked certain crucial details from our lack of experience. In that respect, we require guidance on how to establish a concrete project so that we have a successful launch and make the most impact that we can.
In terms of visibility, we believe it is important to distinguish the platform from our competition. Not only do we offer a censorship resistant and community-governed application, we strive to establish Cifler as a social media platform that engages the average person rather than just the news agencies and journalists. We aim to create a news platform where users can visit and learn about the recent developments in the world, interact with the community and perhaps find ways in which they can help the world. We believe that by adding the social/interactive part to our project, Cifler could get bigger traction and quickly spread word of recent events. Therefore, marketing Cifler as a news sharing platform will be crucial in ensuring the rapid growth of awareness about global issues.
All in all, Cifler needs to tackle issues that not many platforms have dealt with before as a result of its new technology and globally encompassing idea. Certainly, Cifler needs funding to secure scalability, marketing and functioning of the website, However, the main provision that would allow Cifler to obtain the most impact is a strong backbone in terms of law, business and technology as well as a unique position in the news sharing market. We hope that the Innovate community could provide us with the expertise to push our project forward and help us realize our mission of promoting free speech and open journalism.