Content Provenance and Permanent Archiving

Digital Citizenship
March 10, 2020

Content Provenance and Permanent Archiving

Blockchains can be used as a universal index of content authorship and edits.

Key Insight

Blockchains can be used as a universal index of content authorship and edits.

Why It Matters

Blockchain technology enables the creation of a shared permanent ledger where nothing can be deleted. Because of this, adding original content or an index to the original content to the blockchain is a way that journalists can make their content permanent and traceable.

Examples

In 2018, Chinese activist Yue Xin at Peking University used the Ethereum blockchain to publish a letter that detailed a pattern of abuse and intimidation from school administrators. Her letter had been routinely censored from social media sites like WeChat. Her actions illustrated how to use blockchain to permanently archive content that would otherwise be subject to censorship or suppression. Other Chinese activists have since followed her example.

In an increasingly digital world, permanent archives are difficult to maintain for small newsrooms and large media companies alike. The Wayback Machine is a nonprofit that started in 2001 with a mission to digitally archive the world wide web. Despite archival efforts such as these, information on the internet is routinely deleted or censored by large corporations and governments.

In other initiatives, the New York Times is exploring blockchain as a way to combat misinformation, and The News Provenance Project is a project to help the public better understand the origins of journalistic content and detect when images and videos have been doctored or manipulated.

What’s Next

We will see increasing experimentation with blockchain as a method of verifying the origins and unaltered condition of the content users consume online, and as a secure method of archiving.

The Impact

Blockchain-based tools could prove critical in efforts to restore order and reliability to online records and information, which has become increasingly challenging as the internet has evolved.

Watchlist

Associated Press, Internet Archive, New York Times, Washington Post, WikiLeaks, WordPress.