Restoring Trust

I’ve concluded that we Earthlings are in a race between self-destruction and human ingenuity.

On the one hand, we have what I’ll call the “forces of darkness” (okay, probably more accurately described as the forces of human cupidity and stupidity)–rejection of lifesaving vaccines, denial of climate change, what’s-in-it-for-me political corruption, belief in wack-a-doodle conspiracies, and the massive amounts of propaganda and fake news that reinforce our divisions into warring tribes.

On the other hand, there are all sorts of promising efforts to address these threats to humane (and human )civilization. I’ve posted about some of them. The question, of course, is: will humanity descend into a destructive and possibly terminal dark age before these  corrective measures can take effect?

Scientific and technological efforts to combat pandemics and the worst effects of climate change will either prove themselves effective or not. Misinformation, disinformation and propaganda will actually be much more difficult to defeat, and as a mountain of research has shown, the result of our current information environment has been a massive loss of trust–in government, in the media, and in a wide variety of social institutions.

There are a number of efforts underway to combat misinformation and propaganda, to sift the wheat from the chaff–to distinguish what is factual from what is Foxified–so that citizens and future historians (assuming we make it to a future) can have confidence in the  veracity of the information they rely upon.

One of those efforts is using blockchain technology to confirm that accuracy. Starling Lab, a nonprofit academic research center, is using blockchain’s decentralized ledgers to help preserve historical data of importance to humanity. The goal is to restore integrity both to asserted facts and to the internet itself.

Jonathan Dotan is the founder of Starling.

The ultimate goal, says Dotan, is to help curb misinformation at a time when images are often used out of context to advance political and ideological agendas. But doing so requires more than building tech to facilitate the authentication and the storage of data. Starling is also creating an interface that allows third-party experts—lawyers, historians, forensic analysts, journalists, and more—to offer context and clarity about an image or video, creating what Dotan calls “a distributed form of consensus.”

“Capture, store, and verify—that’s critical in our minds to help create a proper chain of custody,” he says. And unlike other organizations that are working on similar ways to attach metadata to images, Starling, which operates between USC and Stanford, is academic, not-for-profit, and entirely open source. Its system doesn’t require a centralized entity to put a stamp of truth on any content.

Starling’s system can also be used to document the historical record in real time. In a Reuters pilot, the news service’s photographers used the lab’s technology to certify images of the 2020 presidential transition, even as its legitimacy was under attack. Starling has also built prototypes with Syrian human rights organization Hala Systems, which has been exploring how to use the lab’s so-called image provenance technology in court to present evidence of war crimes. Starling and Hala are currently working to encrypt, authenticate, and preserve social media content from Telegram and TikTok that documents the war in Ukraine.

The initial project–and the largest–involves downloading and preserving the USC Shoah Foundation’s Holocaust archive.

Stephen Smith, the foundation’s executive director, says this is particularly important at a time when disinformation campaigns seek to downplay the greatest horrors of our shared past. “The competition over history is very real,” he warns.

No kidding. (Ask teachers in Tennessee...)

My techie son has explained blockchain to me. Several times. I still don’t understand it, but I’m willing to believe that the technology builds trust. With Bitcoin, for example, every transaction is recorded on a ledger that’s shared among several “distributed nodes.” The sheer number of copies of the ledger make it hard to change or manipulate.

Blockchain’s uses aren’t limited to finance.

With the Starling Framework, Dotan is applying the same basic idea to storing information. “The idea is that end users could host a critical piece of data—be it a testimony of genocide or record of transaction,” he says. “The end result is that, paradoxically, the more that you spread out information and provide computation in a distributed fashion, the more trusted it could be.”

Dotan has started hiring and partnering with experts across disciplines, including law, journalism, and human rights. The goal is to ensure that important information is accurate, and becomes part of the historical record, from Syria and Ukraine to Washington, DC.

The linked article has much more detail on the social and technical challenges involved.It’s  long, but worth your time to read. It gives me hope at the same time as it gently reminds me that I have no idea how today’s technology works….


  1. In line one, Prof K said “I’ve concluded that we Earthlings are in a race between self-destruction and human ingenuity.” Along this line, the UN just released a dire climate warning – “NOW or NEVER.” Lets hope the world chooses now but I worry about that.

  2. This does offer a little hope for what’s next, another sliver of light in all this dank darkness. Who was it that said sunlight is the best disinfectant. Thank you

  3. Julian Assange was working on digital encryption for news media over a decade ago because governments and corporations were using the internet for their own nefarious acts. In fact, there is a book written about Julian meeting with Eric Schmidt of Google and we were warned that Google is not what they seem to be.

    The Truth shall set us free.

    Not everybody wants us to know the truth. Look at all the forces against the Amazon workers who unionized the first warehouse in Amazon on Staten Island. Chris Hedges wrote an excellent article about it yesterday:

    “According to court documents, it (Amazon) formed a reaction team involving 10 departments, including a security group staffed by military veterans, to counter the Staten Island organizing and had blueprints for breaking union activity worked out in its “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook.” The strike-breaking teams organized compulsory Maoist-type meetings, up to 20 a day, with workers where supervisors denigrated unions. It employed subterfuges making it hard to vote for a union. It put up anti-union posters in the bathrooms. It fired workers suspected of organizing. And it relied on the gutting of antitrust legislation and OSHA, as well as the emasculation of the National Labor Relations Board, which left workers largely defenseless, although the NLRB made a few decisions in favor of the union organizers.”

    And Chris is right about this:

    “The fight for unions, and with them, decent salaries, benefits, and job protection was paid for by rivers of working-class blood and tremendous suffering. The formation of unions, as in the past, will entail a long and vicious class war. The security and surveillance apparatus, including Homeland Security and the FBI, will be deployed, along with private contractors and thugs hired by corporations, to monitor, infiltrate and destroy union organizing.”

  4. Blockchain is a fundamental change in technology where crypto currencies as well as information chains can be traced or tracked and verified thru past histories. Chain is the key work where prior information pieces of information are linked and verified.
    My question is could we verify the new stories that seemed to be covered up. You know the Russian disinformation stories about Hunter Biden that are now true and not deemed disinformation.
    Bobalinski a partner to Hunter claims that, “ the big guy” is actually the President who according to emails received 10% of 4.8 million. Where are the famed Nixon reporters who uncovered his story. A Pulitzer prize was given to the NY Times over Russian Collusion by the former administration now deemed false and disproven by an ongoing vilified DOJ investigation. Nope, no matter how much technology gets implemented, trust is being destroyed daily by those who wish facts into existence thrusting diversionary tactics in the media false coverup spun pieces.

  5. What then becomes of mankind’s ability to decide what is truth and what is lies? Will the part of the human brain that weighs and balances incoming information simply shrink and dissolve away?

  6. What you speak of is “good to a point”. The dangers – are real – no question about them! At the same time, we must be careful with the: “Because he is wrong, ‘our side’ is right” – kind of thinking. Trump-Republican = wrong, doesn’t mean, Biden-Democrats = right. Where one has a clear oppositional force – e.g. Putin – as soon as we demonize him/the cause – we falsely – make “our side” – 100% right – where questioning – it is “treason” or similar. Israel-Palestine – is a prime example – where many “progressives” – blindly support true “Apartheid”. As soon as we say: “evil” (with accompanying” – “great” – we make emotional based decisions that avoid – “the facts”. Much of what is being done – related to Russia – may hurt the Russian People an incredible amount – and hurt Putin and the wealthy Russians relatively little – it also is unclear – whether much of what we do – will – help make Putin a “hero” within Russia, rather than a failed leader. In many areas – the bar is set quite low!

  7. Sounds promising and I hope to read the full article later in the day. But at the same time our US House of Representatives is pushing through a bill called the America Competes Act which, as one of its many provisions to help the US compete with China, includes the College Transparency Act, which seeks to track an enormous amount of data on every college student in the country from enrollment to grave.

    All the technology in the world cannot save us from an invasion of personal privacy from a government that enacts laws to do just that. Below is a link to a good article on this topic. Please contact your House Representative and urge them to oppose this provision of ACA 2022.

    ps: this is a good example of why I have never identified as a Democrat or Republican (although I doubt if I’ll ever vote for another R in my lifetime). Both parties are fully capable of horribly noxious ideas and legislation.

  8. I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness. It isn’t DISINFORMATION, unless we accept Orwell. It is LIES. The bodies in the streets of Bucha can be seen in satellite images for two weeks, so are the Russians lying or just disinforming us about their culpability? You can’t make it pretty if you want to get rid of it.

  9. Sorry for the crassness, but all this is trying to separate fly poop from pepper. The scientific method is slow and cumbersome, but using it eventually defines how things are. Experiment design doesn’t sell newspapers or air time, but knowing how to conduct such research and experimentation in one’s mind is a good start to sorting out the disinformation designed to inflame primitive emotions in order to sell something or to obtain/retain power.

    Humans still live with an antediluvian brain trying to cope with massive greed, hoarding and behavior that defies the best interests of the species.

  10. Democrats still don’t get it. These people don’t care. The don’t want the truth, and even if they did, their priorities lie in conforming to their groups, not in being right.

    People who are broken by the trauma and brainwashing of religion in childhood will not prioritize truth over group identity.

  11. We are all ignorant because not a single one of us knows anything larger than a infinitesimal fraction of human knowledge, no matter how hard anyone tries to become otherwise. We are only collectively wise.

    This is a new phenomenon and we are not handling it well at all. We seem inclined, under these circumstances, to think if everyone is ignorant, everyone is equal in knowledge so all opinions are equally valid. The truth isn’t that at all. It is that we’re all very specialized so only collectively can we bring together enough specialization to solve complex problems and all we have are complex problems.

    What a terrible time in history for mistrust to peak.

  12. Not being aware of all that goes on world-wide and the inner workings of established agreements and pacts between nations; truth vs. lies needs to include lies by omission, or simply downplaying the full truth. It has been an indirect truth that the lack of actual military assistance for Ukraine is based on money – the unspoken fear that no nation will directly fire against Russia’s genocide in Ukraine and be accused of starting WWIII. Putin in counting on this to remain his strongest protection. The members of OPEC include Russia so all other members are protecting Russia’s money and Ukraine and its citizens are expendable. Putin is in the process of reestablishing the Soviet Union; Ukraine is his 3rd nation falling victim of his “military occupations”. Who will be next to fall victim to fossil fuel’s trillions of dollars going into the hands of all OPEC members as they continue to protect Putin and Russia and their money?

    “Restoring Trust” in all other international agreements have been pushed to the background and Putin and OPEC rule.

  13. In regard to ‘forces of darkness’, I will add a biblical quote to this discussion. If you hold the bible true — as I do — this is sobering: ”
    “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and they will provide great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect (God’s chosen ones).” (AMP version).

    In other words…we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Greater deceptions than words are coming.

  14. Anthony,

    The “great deceptions” have already been around humankind. It started 200,000 years ago with the first mystics and shamans. Nothing new here, except now the “shamans” have nuclear weapons. I wonder how God looks at this current conundrum given that his wrath and mass killings in the Old Testament didn’t seem to teach anyone anything except that killing was just part of the drill.

  15. When censorship is accomplished by flooding the media with lies, maybe this will make a difference. Like some of the comments here, with no sources cited, I am not sure it is possible to sort the lies from what might be kernel of truth.

    Slightly off the topic, I find it interesting that social media is doing whipsaw rule changes in the midst of trying to moderate content in the midst of a live streamed 21st century war. In addition to trying to figure out if what is shared is true, they are combating the flood of lies from the disinformation stream that is tying to censure (via overload) what is coming out.

    What will prevent the propaganda machines from tagging their content with block-chain to make it look as verified and true as the truth?

  16. Vern,

    Fly Poop From Pepper? That’s a new one! I hope I can remember it, lol.


    Thank you for the new word Cupidity, well, not a new word but one I’ve never used, thanks again.


    How are you today?

    Proverbs 6:12-14 reads, “a useless and wicked man walks about with crooked speech, he winks with his eye, signals with his foot, and motions with his fingers. With a perverted heart he is always scheming evil and spreading contentions.”

    In the New testament lexicon, a useless and wicked man refers to one being sly!

    “Behind a facade of sincerity lurks a perverted mind and Spirit of discord.”

    20-23; “observe, my son, the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother. Always bind them around your heart; tie them about your neck. When you walk about, it will lead you; when you lie down, it will stand guard over you. And when you awaken, it will speak to you. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light, and a reproofs of discipline are the way to life.”

    Mankind as always had an aversion to telling the truth! And when individuals make up their own truth and reality, their conscience is so scarred, they end up bringing demise to themselves and those of the society in which they live.

  17. If new technology helps to isolate the dark triad among notable personalities, then that is a good thing if we can figure out how to contain them!

    The dark triad is a trio of the negative personality traits of:
    • Psychopathy
    • Machiavellianism
    • Narcissism

    Psychopathy is an antisocial disorder that is marked by a lack of normal emotional response and empathy, coupled with low impulse control.
    Psychopaths find it difficult to develop normal functioning relationships and
    display high levels of egocentrism. Psychopathy frequently leads to the individual’s manipulating others for their own purposes, with no sense of guilt
    or empathy, and can be highly damaging to their victims. There are two forms
    of psychopathy:
    Primary psychopathy, which is defined by low agreeableness or
    reduced social cooperation with others.
    Secondary psychopathy, which is characterised by low agreeableness
    and high levels of neuroticism expressed as anxiety and emotional
    Machiavellianism is defined by cunning and the manipulation of others’
    distrust of others and the manipulation to achieve goals, gain power and
    reach higher social status. People with higher levels of Machiavellianism tend
    to control others through both direct and indirect means.

    Narcissism is the pursuit of self-gratification through vanity or egotistic
    admiration of one’s idealised self-image and is expressed as a need for more
    authority and an over-inflated view of oneself.

    Now if only we can defeat a psychopathic Machiavellian narcissist at the polls with this new block chain technology should he run again.

  18. In describing your adversaries,you have also described yourselves. You are the same. Different sides,but the same coin.

  19. Looking at the topic today through the economic lens (which I am wont to do) it has been clear to me since the unity and trust in government we enjoyed in WW II and the pent up demand-induced boom following that Big Business and the Republican Party have been on a mission to destroy public trust in government, not that in isolated instances and on particular issues that party had not done that before (See Republican claims in 1935 that Social Security was a communist plot etc.).

    The Kochs and other empire builders after WW II needed help to avoid taxation and regulation by those evil socialists (aka Democrats) and with the help of such as the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, compliant media coverage and state houses that passed “right to work” acts they have largely succeeded in avoiding wage equality, unionized workforces, and taxes.

    To wax philosophical > Truth in its many dimensions has been the casualty of greed and pretense as set forth by other contributors to this blog today. Profit and loss statements seem to have taken precedence over our very existence on this swirling, tilting orb in space. That libertarian view of our collective future can (if we have time) be changed by the election of environmentally-senstitive politicians who select an ism within which to make needed changes leading to better air to breathe and less acidic oceans within which fish and reefs can thrive along with us homo sapiens. It’s not about politics; it’s about survival; so let’s get on with it. Now!

  20. Norris,

    Thank you for today’s clinical analysis. Seventy-five million voters chose this diagnosed psychopath to represent them as the leader of their country – and many are still waving that flag.
    Does that mean that they also are psychopaths, or is it a flaw in the psyche that draws them to that flame of madness. Republicans today, seem to be able to dredge up that horror show among so many so that the worship of Donald Trump clearly indicates a social ailment that may have no cure.

  21. The same psyche drawn to Trump is the same thinking underpinning support for the Azov Battalion.

    Trump is so 2016. Democrats seem to be acting like a VCR stuck on pause and rewind. That’s not forward. Progressive? Effective? No on both. There must be something new to assuage the anger of the affluent and white DNC/DLC follower,no? How many years have gone by since the public was promised there would be refinement of Heritage Foundation Care?

    High gas prices,a looming 3rd WW and an ineffective administration is going to culminate a massive Republican victory. The administration’s ineffective response to Covid and its evolution. Meanwhile,you’ll still be stuck in 2016.

    If you haven’t noticed, the world has moved on.

  22. Emilio,

    Actually, the Biden administration has worked well on multiple fronts. First, they had to un-screw the things that the Trump psychopaths and incompetents did. Second, they had to cut through the bureaucracy to get COVID vaccines into the arms of millions. It doesn’t matter who started the program to create the vaccines as much as how to get it working. No, the only VCR stuck is the DOJ’s s-l-o-w progress toward jailing the psychopaths mentioned above. You’d be surprised at how FEW Democrats are affluent and white.

  23. My simple (perhaps stupid) look at history shows (ie proves) that there has been class warfare from the very beginning, or at least when fields started to be sown and harvested and a few promised protection of those said fields.

    Class warfare is history with a long list of the haves against the have nots.

    In my opinion (what else do we have?), today we are dealing with a global class of the obscene wealthy class versus everyone else. It is called The Global Economy.

    This wealthy class run and operate governments. This is just as true in China as it is here in the USA or in Europe.

    If ANYONE wants to know who the movers and shakers are in government and the economy, all you have to do is this: FOLLOW THE MONEY (TRAIL). Of course, that fool proof experiment outed Nixon. But it’s a proof that has been around long before Nixon and ever since. Try it.

    Most people, on both side of our current “divide” in America, probably agree on one thing: Our government (and has been for at least the last 40 years) is thoroughly corrupt with “pay to play,” a system held together and ran on MONEY. I remember some voted for Trump as an “outsider,” a non-player in this corrupt system. My personal outsider was Bernie (even though he is, technically, an insider as a Senator, but I digress…) who has been hammering about this class warfare and the 1% all his adult life!!! Needless to say, Trump was, in fact, a corrupt Money Class man (not an outsider as some had hoped) who conned his base. Again, the proof is following the money.

    So how do we change a system that is entrenched in MONEY?! How do we change a system that is more concerned about profits to one that will be more concerned about sustainability, a green and democratic economy and workforce???

    The recent UN Climate Report suggest we have 3 years, maybe, to put a stop to the madness destroying the planet. Does anyone REALLY think our government will change course by now, wake up, and reinvent our political and economic systems in the next 3 years? Ha!

    This is reality.

Comments are closed.