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This image-authentication startup is combating faux social media accounts, doctored photos, deep fakes, and more

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20.02.2019

Early one morning in April 2017, a series of horrific photos and videos began hitting Facebook and YouTube showing civilians in a rebel-held area of northern Syria writhing on the ground and gasping for oxygen as deadly sarin-based gas—which witnesses said was dropped from the sky by the Syrian government—filled their lungs. It was one of the worst chemical attacks in the country’s nearly decade-long conflict, yet the United Nations Security Council failed to adopt a resolution to intervene. They were stymied by Russia and its allies, who dismissed the visual evidence as staged.

“Other countries—people who wanted to deny the reality of what was going on in Syria—undermined the validity of user-generated content,” says Mounir Ibrahim, who was serving as an adviser to then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley at the time. “It was a surprisingly effective argument.” Ibrahim, a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department, was posted in Syria during the Arab Spring six years earlier and witnessed, firsthand, the potency of visual documentation—the way it could empower the powerless and lead to the fracturing of autocratic regimes. Now that advantage was being subverted. (Indeed, a year after the sarin attack, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces carried out a similar strike near Damascus.)

Realizing that NGOs, journalists, and others needed a way to authenticate on-the-ground footage, Ibrahim reached out to San Diego–based Truepic. The company has a free camera app that, immediately after a user pushes the shutter button, imprints photos and videos with indelible metadata, including a time stamp and geolocation information. After being transmitted to Truepic for verification, the image or video is then recorded to the blockchain and uploaded to the company’s servers, which also host an individual web page for each piece of content.

Ibrahim quit his State Department job, joined Truepic as vice president of strategic initiatives in October 2017, and immediately set to work brokering relationships between the company and his humanitarian contacts in Syria. Today, the Truepic app is used by doctors and hospital workers with the Syrian American Medical Society........

© Fast Company