The New York Times Introduces the “News Provenance Project”; Research Includes Building Proof-of-Concept Using Blockchain Technology
From The NY Times Open:
Finding solutions that help news readers distinguish material published in good faith from that which is deliberately misleading is no small challenge, and we realize we’re not the first to take it on within a news context. Newsrooms around the world diligently continue to cover the social, political and technological factors that contribute to misinformation and its consequences. Many also now regularly work to debunk false claims, which tend to proliferate more during campaign seasons.
As misinformation tools continue to evolve, so have strategies to identify and avoid it. Some recent standout examples include the Washington Post’s visual explainer of manipulated video and the Wall Street Journal’s creation of a team to help its journalists identify deepfakes. In addition, a number of news-centric nonprofits — including First Draft, which provides guidance in verifying content found on the social web, consortiums like Misinfocon, the Credibility Coalition and many, many others — have emerged to study the issue from a variety of perspectives and provide much-needed research and training.
…The New York Times Research & Development team is launching The News Provenance Project to experiment with product design and user-facing tools to try to make the origins of journalistic content clearer to our audiences.
Our first project is focused on photojournalism. Because photos can be easily manipulated — and then circulate widely through digital spaces with few brakes applied from social platforms, messaging apps or search engines — we are aiming to learn what happens when we give audiences better insight about the information associated with a news photo published online.
To that end, we are approaching this task with a hypothesis: that adding context to images might have a positive or clarifying effect on the wide ecosystem of information published to the web.
Around that hypothesis, we are conducting user research, which we’ll use as the basis for a proof of concept.
This summer, in addition to conducting user research, we’ll also build a proof-of-concept technical implementation. We believe attributes of blockchain technology show promise in developing a workable solution, so we’ll begin by exploring Hyperledger Fabric, a permissioned and private blockchain framework. We are developing this proof of concept in collaboration with the IBM Garage, which has executed similar projects in other industries.
Why blockchain? Its underlying structure as a “distributed ledger” (a database that is not housed on one set of servers owned and operated by one entity, but by many entities and servers that are kept updated simultaneously) is useful for this project because it makes the records of each change traceable: files are not so much changed as built upon. Any updates to what is published are recorded in a sequential string (or “blocks” in a “chain”) with the string of those changes adding up to create a provenance.
By experimenting with publishing photos on a blockchain, we might in theory provide audiences with a way to determine the source of a photo, or whether it had been edited after it was published.
In exploring the applications of blockchain for photojournalism, we hope to learn more about where and how it may be sensibly used for journalism as a whole.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.