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New York Times unveils blockchain-based project to fight fake news

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Yesterday the New York Times (NYT) revealed its blockchain-based News Provenance Project to tackle misinformation in the media. The news firm plans to use distributed ledger technology (DLT) to verify the source of media and whether it has been changed.

Currently in the initial phase, which will last until the end of this year, the project is in collaboration with IBM Garage. This is IBM’s startup focused arm, which helps transform blockchain ideas into reality.

The NYT points out that news organizations generally hold detailed metadata about any media they publish. However, this information is rarely seen by the public or verifiable, as anyone can save and edit a photo shown online.

With ultra-realistic ‘deepfakes’ and convincing misinformation, the NYT believes it’s crucial to build a source of trust in journalism.

“What if we could provide [people] with a meaningful way to differentiate between misleading content and credible news?” asked project lead Sasha Koren, who was previously the co-lead of the Guardian Mobile Innovation Lab.

In yesterday’s blog post, she explains: “We believe attributes of blockchain technology show promise in developing a workable solution, so we’ll begin by exploring Hyperledger Fabric”.

The plan is to use blockchain as a store for metadata – which describes the content – focused for now on photos used in journalism. This allows anyone with access to the data to verify where it came from and whether it was edited, thanks to the immutability of DLT.

By beginning with a private, permissioned platform such as Hyperledger Fabric, the News Provenance Project welcomes many parties, including other news organizations, which can be added as nodes.

Though the main focus of this project is audience trust, attaching immutable source data to media can help with copyright issues. If anyone can check who owns the photo and who can share it, tackling infringement could be much easier.

In that vein, last year Baidu launched an image copyright blockchain for photographers. Tech giant Sony has similarly been working on a DLT based rights management system.

The NYT initiative is not entirely new. Orange, France’s biggest telecoms firm, joined forces earlier this year with to authenticate news sources using a blockchain. Back in 2017, EDF Energy was one of the first to release a news authentication system, also in France. Then intended for press releases, the impact of the idea was evident following the terror attacks in the country.

Image Copyright: mshch / BigStock Photo