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Fighting fake photos, one social stream at a time

October 16, 2018

ASU teams up with tech company to fight fake news ahead of midterm elections

In 1855, an English photographer named Roger Fenton traveled to Crimea to document the war there. British troops dubbed one spot on the Sevastopol peninsula the “valley of death” because it was under constant shelling.

Fenton photographed the spot, a shallow defile littered with cannonballs. The photo (above), titled “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” became famous as one of the first and most well-known images of war.

The problem is it’s faked. Another photo without cannonballs in the image exists. Filmmaker Errol Morris exhaustively researched both images and came to the conclusion Fenton and his assistant tossed cannonballs along the valley so it made a better picture.  

Flash forward to now, when most of the images coming out of Syria were taken not by journalists but individuals. Was the hospital bombed yesterday, as the rebels say, or not, as the regime claims?

How can you tell if you see it in your news feed? A new technology aims to answer that.

Truepic is a tech company focused on image authenticity. The company is launching a first-of-its-kind partnership with Arizona State University's Weaponized Narrative Initiative to push back on disinformation with authenticated images and videos throughout the country ahead of the midterm elections.

When photos are loaded into the Truepic app, their patented technology verifies that the image hasn’t been altered or edited and watermarks it with a time stamp, geocode and other metadata. Truepic stores a version of the photo in its digital vault and assigns it a six-digit code and URL for retrieving it. Truepic also immediately logs the image or video onto the Bitcoin blockchain.

“It will allow you to know whether or not an image you’ve received is valid,” said Braden Allenby, founding co-director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative. “The reason that’s important is that a lot of disinformation swirls around Ukraine, Syria, areas where combat makes it very difficult for the average person to know what’s real and what’s not.”

As soon as something like a hospital bombing or a chemical attack happens, an immediate swell of disinformation flows out, primarily from Russian sources, Allenby said.

“You have this mass of information — conflictual, difficult and complex — that most people don’t understand,” he said. “If you have this technology, what you can do is you can go to the image itself and find out if it’s valid, if it’s taken at the place it was purported to be taken and at the time it was purported to be taken.”

News operations also can verify the validity of photographs.

“We’re not very far from a time when CGI and voice technology is going to make it possible to have anybody saying anything and nobody except an expert with a lab full of equipment is going to be able to know whether it’s true or false,” Allenby said. “It means you have no way of verifying that what you want to think is true. This technology becomes more important going forward than it is now.”

Both ASU and Truepic are members of the State Department's Global Engagement Center, which is charged with leading the federal government's efforts to counter disinformation.

“It’s not going to be a tech fix, and it’s not going to be an academia fix,” said Mounir Ibrahim, leader of strategic initiatives for Truepic.

Going forward, verification and trust will take something more than an app or a study, Ibrahim said. It will require information consumers to be an active part of the solution.

Top photo: "Valley of the Shadow of Death," Roger Fenton, Crimea, 1855. The famous image came under scrutiny in 2007 when an identical photo was found, one that did not feature the cannonballs on the road. Some have speculated that the additional cannonballs were added to increase the impact of the photo. 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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The toys and trebles of 'Frankenstein!'

October 16, 2018

ASU Chamber Orchestra celebrates bicentennial of classic tale with music and a movie

With whistles, pipes, toy pianos and automobile horns, Arizona State University’s orchestral contribution to the "Frankenstein" bicentennial celebration looks to be almost as piecemeal as Mary Shelley’s famed monster.

But by the end of the concert, scheduled for Oct. 20 at ASU Gammage and Oct. 21 at the Mesa Arts Center, conductor Jeffery Meyer hopes his audience will have enjoyed a fun and frivolous F-sharp in the key of “Frankenstein!”

“It is surprisingly difficult to play the Swanee whistle in tune and to avoid hitting each other when swinging the plastic hose-pipes overhead!” said Meyer, the director of orchestras for the School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU. “However, we’ve had a tremendous amount of fun ‘learning’ these instruments and perhaps the most difficult thing is not to laugh out loud throughout the course of the piece.” 

Jeffery Meyer

That piece, H.K. Gruber’s 1970s gothic cantata “Pan-demonium,” is the score for the first half of ASU Chamber Orchestra’s presentation of “Frankenstein!” Conducted by Meyer, this unique performance features dozens of toy instruments alongside the vocal sounds of David Schildkret, the chansonnier tasked with performing a half-sung, half-spoken narrative of “spooky” children’s poems throughout the piece that blurs the line between classical and popular music with references to jazz and rock.

The second half of the concert will feature a screening of the 1931 film “Frankenstein,” accompanied by a live orchestral score written by Michael Shapiro in 2001.

“This is a chance to see the classic horror film in a completely new context with a live orchestra score,” Meyer said, noting that the original film was released without any form of musical enhancement.

Guests are invited to arrive an hour before each concert to participate in Frankenstein-related activities. They will also have the opportunity to explore the many facets of the Frankenstein story through innovative projects and perspectives from across the various disciplines at ASUContributors to the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project have included ASU Libraries; Barrett, The Honors College; the Center for Science and the Imagination; the Department of English; Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; the School of Earth and Space Exploration; and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. that have been celebrating 200 years of the publication of Shelley’s fabled tale about a grotesque but knowing creature scientifically created from a patchwork of body parts.

“ASU Chamber Orchestra Presents ‘Frankenstein!’” is one of the final segments in ASU’s grant-fueled Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, which turned focus on questions such as “What is life?” “What does it mean to be human?” and “What are our responsibilities as creators?”

Some of the winning grant projects that were funded to promote a deeper reflection on the work and lasting relevance of Frankenstein will be on display in ASU Gammage. Among them:

• Ben Hurlbut and Gaymon Bennett, “What Makes a Monster a Monster? An Exploratory Dialog Among the Makers”

• Jeffrey Meyer, “Frankenstein: An Evening of Musical Perspectives on Frankenstein”

• Micah Lande, “A Really Modern Day Prometheus: Collaborative 3D Printed Bust of the Creature”

• Karla Moeller, “Building Frankenstein: A Physiology Game”

• Pamela Winfrey, Carlo Maley and Athena Aktipis, “This Beautiful Monster: Cancer Across Life”

“Don’t miss it,” Meyer said. “If there is one event that you decide to attend to celebrate and explore the 200th anniversary of the classic ‘Frankenstein’ story, this should be it.”

ASU Chamber Presents "Frankenstein!"

Where: ASU Gammage and Mesa Arts Center 

When: 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 20 (ASU Gammage) and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 (Mesa Arts Center)

Admission: $7.50 plus fees for general admission (ASU Gammage); $15 plus fees for general admission (Mesa Arts Center) 

Top photos courtesy Pixabay

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications