The New York Times tests a blockchain system to combat misleading images

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 editor built a prototype to provide reliable metadata on various images that are online. Often, images taken in a different location at a different time will be used in connection with unrelated events. Through the platform, readers and social network users will be able to know who took the photo and when.

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Technologically, the system used an IBM blockchain platform developed directly by IBM Garage, to ensure that data remains tamper-proof. The system requires an authorized business block chain „to ensure that the right network members have the right permissions for the metadata,“ the blog post explains.

Following user feedback, the New York Times team realized that in addition to knowing when the photo was taken, readers are also interested in knowing where it appeared first.

However, the solution is still a prototype and the publication team encountered several problems in the implementation.

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The problem of real-world data

The prototype was greatly simplified and used a single smart contract that automatically approved all new images. In the real world, that content must be reviewed and validated by the organization that published the original image. This can become problematic with some metadata fields, such as the description of an event; these can be quite subjective and the rules are difficult to formalize.

The biggest challenge is to combine images with their blockchain version. Due to the fact that images can be modified through software, a computer may not recognize that a slightly altered image is present in the block chain.

Further advances in computer vision and image recognition seem necessary to make this platform a reality.

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Finally, accessibility to the block chain was also noted as a concern. As the team noted, „news organizations with diverse financial and technical resources should be able to participate. A public block chain could help solve this, although it may be more difficult to ensure adequate permit levels.

The new prototype comes after similar efforts by the Italian news agency Ansa, which uses blockchain to „certify“ its news.

On the other hand, the system developed by the NYT provides an easy to use case. If implemented, it could help curb a common source of misinformation in social and traditional networks.