New Technologies to Confront Visual Disinformation

On top of the environmental challenges Brazil faces, it’s also confronting a pair of destructive forces that are challenging journalism—the contradiction of fact-based information and the denial of climate change. Inside Climate News’s story about the environmental devastation of the Pantanal wetland, produced with the Starling Lab for Data Integrity at Stanford University and the University of Southern California, examines the impact of both of those and presents a possible solution to such misinformation involving photography.

Photos presented in our coverage provide a clear window into the environmental crisis. They go further by displaying data that proves their provenance, creating an unalterable “time capsule” of the events captured in the images using new verification standards established by the Content Authenticity Initiative.

Readers can explore the metadata and verification information by hovering over an image. The unique design from the Four Corners Project reveals more information with clicks on each corner of the photo.

The lower right corner shows the “capture certificate” that shows readers how the photo has been authenticated and the photo’s caption.

The lower left shows the photographer’s backstory about making the image.

The top left shows related photos from the story.

The top right shows related links.

As each photo was taken and stored, the resulting image and its metadata—for example the date, time and GPS coordinates of the photo—were “hashed.” This means the file was processed with a cryptographic formula, producing a unique ID number—or “hash”—akin to a digital fingerprint. The capture certificate keeps this digital fingerprint with the photo as it travels around the web.

The hash allows users to track the history, or “provenance,” of the photo, ensuring it has not been tampered with. If anyone has manipulated the image, running it through the formula that created the original hash will produce a mismatched number, indicating the image has been changed.

These hashes were registered on blockchains including Filecoin, IPFS and IOTA. These public databases use distributed cryptography to ensure they are tamperproof and immutable. The registrations have also been injected into the capture certificate. This is embedded into the file itself to make the verification information available to viewers.