New York Times Trials Blockchain System to Combat Misleading Pictures
The New York Times publication has revealed the successful completion of a trial for a new blockchain-based system to detect misinformation. According to a June 12 blog post, the publisher created a prototype to give reliable metadata on several pictures found online. Often, pictures taken in a different location at various times will be utilized in connection with unrelated events. Through the platform, readers and social media users will be able to know who took the picture and when.
Technologically, the system utilized an IBM blockchain platform developed directly by IBM Garage to ensure that the data remains tamper-proof. The system needs a permissioned enterprise blockchain “to ensure the right members of the network have the appropriate permissions for the metadata,” the blog post explained.
Following user feedback, the New York Times team understood that readers are also involved in comprehending where it appeared earlier in addition to knowing when the picture was taken. The solution is still a prototype, nevertheless, and the publication’s team discovered various issues in the implementation.
The problem of real-world data
The prototype was massively simplified and adopted a single, smart contract that automatically approved all new pictures. In the real world, that content must be reviewed and validated by the organization that issued the original picture. That can become questionable with some metadata fields, like the description of an event — these can be entirely subjective, and the rules are challenging to formalize.
The greatest difficulty is matching pictures with their version on the blockchain. Because pictures can be modified by software, a computer may not understand that a slightly altered image is present in the blockchain. Additional advances in computer vision and image recognition appear to be required to make this platform a reality.
Ultimately, accessibility to the blockchain was also seen as a concern. As the team noted, “news organizations with varying financial and technical resources need to be able to participate.” A public blockchain could help to solve this, though it may be more challenging to secure adequate permission levels.
The new prototype accompanies similar efforts by Italian news agency Ansa, which utilizes blockchain to “certify” its news stories. On the other hand, the system developed by the NYT offers a straightforward use case. If executed, it could help check a common source of misinformation over both conventional and social media.