During the coronavirus pandemic many ideas have been advanced to reduce growing social inequities. These include the proposal of Universal Basic Income. While some of my colleagues consider UBI to be an unrealistic idea, I believe it may be used to address and solve several concrete problems. Notably the fake news crisis which threatens democratic processes.

This may also be an effective test case for UBI.

Addressing the causes of the fake news crisis:

The transition from traditional print media to digital media has not happened without serious tradeoffs. It has led to the emergence of an advertising business model centred on the application of machine learning methods to large-scale brainwashing, what some call the ‘attention economy’, that has no historical precedent. On some level, it has exposed news rooms to the tragedy of the commons with revenues plummeting. On another level, it has exposed the vulnerabilities of modern democracies to the fake news crisis.

If every citizen has a right to fair and accurate news reporting and responsible editorials, and we simultaneously acknowledge the important costs of managing a newsroom, I believe UBI may be used to address the problem in an intelligent manner. The right to fair news may be passed into law via a tax reform.

At the beginning of each year, each citizen will be allowed to spend a news voucher in exchange for access to a news subscription to a finite number of news rooms regulated by the government. I would like to emphasise that the freedom of the press won’t be diminished in this situation, and that it would be a good test of UBI for solving a concrete problem.

It is possible to have a free press, that is also freed from having to choose between selling their souls to billionaires and an attention-focused business model that is detrimental to the quality of its content.

A remark on technological solutions:

A parallel solution may be to have obligatory critical reading classes in all high-schools across Europe where a newspaper subscription per student will be mandatory.

Meanwhile, I have colleagues who believe that the problem of fake news may be resolved by the application of sufficiently advanced machine learning technology for automated fact checking. However, this is a myopic view that ignores the causal role of the ‘attention economy’ in the development of the fake news problem.