The New York Times has become the latest media outlet to attempt to tackle fake news. Through the publisher’s News Provenance Project and Linux’s Hyperledger Fabric permissioned blockchain, the New York Times’ Research and Development team aims to authenticate news media materials by creating signals that can be detected regardless of where they are published.
To combate misinformation on the internet, the News Provenance Project is carrying out experiments with the aim of discovering a solution that can be used throughout the media industry. As explained on the project’s website, there is a gap between the amount of information news organisations have about their published media—such as photos, videos and articles—and the subset of information that their users can access. This issue is amplified the more the media travels throughout the internet, away from its original content and context.
“Trolls and bad actors have established many tools for misleading people, generally using authentic photos and videos as source material,” as explained as part of the “problem” the project aims to solve. “Some of the techniques are simple: recycling old images, selective cropping and editing, slowing down and speeding up videos, and so on. Other techniques are more sophisticated, involving the creation of ‘synthetic’ media such as deepfakes.”
As a result, readers are “deceived and confused” and eventually become “fatigued and apathetic” when looking at the news.
However, the News Provenance Project aims to use the metadata available in photographs to fight misleading information whenever it shows up across the internet, with the goal of creating a “set of signals that can travel with published media anywhere that material is displayed.”
“News organisations know a lot about the media they publish,” the project explained on its website. “They generally record where and when photos and videos were captured, and by whom, as well as the steps of the editing and publishing processes. This metadata could help combat misinformation, but publishers have no reliable mechanism for distributing it to social media platforms, messaging apps, browsers and other systems that serve as the last line of defense in protecting users.”
The News Provenance Project decided to use blockchain technology in this endeavour because data can be protected and shared with a higher level of security. Data stored in a blockchain cannot be tampered, yet can still be shared by multiple entities.
The first phase of this project, which will be led by a team of technologists and journalists working with emerging technologies, will run through late 2019 with the goal of creating a proof of concept and demonstrating how the system could be scaled. The proof of concept with be created in collaboration with IBM Garage, a cloud-based blockchain system that has carried out similar projects in other sectors.
Robert Scott Lazar