Project FiveARM Blog

Using Blockchain for journalism source verification and reputation.

by Hugo O’Connor

As part of Project FiveArm’s methodology, we are developing a blockchain integration that enables  portable, anonymous, and secure credibility ratings of source material.  Project FiveARM’s Hugo O’Connor explains.

Cryptography, the field of study concerned with information security, confidentiality, integrity, and authentication, provides a powerful set of tools. This toolkit has been looked at with renewed interest following the tremendous ascent of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

A cryptocurrency is an example of applied cryptography that combines a currency with a payment network, enabling peer to peer transactions. More money has poured into the cryptocurrency ecosystem, than the early days of the world wide web. The innovation that enabled these peer-to-peer, decentralised monetary systems is a technology called the blockchain.

Blockchain presents unique opportunities to apply some of these technologies to the intensifying issue of ensuring that source material from independent journalists, witnesses, stringers and frontline defenders can be trusted.

What is the Blockchain?

The blockchain consists of groups (blocks) of transactions, each cryptographically linked to the preceding group of transactions. Blocks are written into the sequence through a process of many nodes or computers searching for a nonce (a random bit of data, or arbitrary number).  When combined with a group of transactions, it can produce a hash (a hash being a one-way function that produces a unique fingerprint from some data) lower than a given value, that adjusts depending on the combined amount of computing power on the network.

As there is some work required, computer processing cycles and therefore electricity, to produce each hash, the system is known as proof of work. The node that produces this ‘golden’ nonce is rewarded with some amount of newly issued cryptocurrency, and this reward provides an incentive for the participating nodes to take part. The longest chain of blocks serves as proof of the events witnessed by the network.

One way of thinking of the blockchain is to consider it as a world computer. Whereas we are used to the paradigm of one computer per person, the blockchain introduces the paradigm of one computer per planet.

The ‘world computer’ paradigm has obvious application for the financial sector, for example, as we can now have some value state that cannot simply be copied and pasted between computers. This state could represent tokens for a monetary system, or any other finite financial resource, such as stocks or bonds.

How can Blockchain serve journalism needs?

Only recently has the discussion moved to how this technology might address some of the challenges facing journalism.

The first area that comes to mind is identity. In most circumstances, journalists require a secure channel to communicate with their sources. Public-private key cryptography can provide a way for sources to encrypt their communications with journalists.

What it can also provide is a means for sources to sign their messages in a way that can be cryptographically verified by any other party with that source’s public key component.  That a piece of information originated from the person in possession of a particular private key can be proven. In this way, it is possible for sources to be completely anonymous yet for journalists to build an identity for that source based solely on the information they have contributed over a period of time.

The second area is to do with integrity of records. The blockchain offers a cryptographically auditable history of the state of some set of records stored on it. With Bitcoin, for example, it is possible to trace the spending of an amount of bitcoin right back to the genesis of that bitcoin when it was created in a coinbase transaction as a reward for a particular node solving the proof-of-work challenge. If the FiveARM field data records were to be stored on a traditional database, there is a risk that some malicious actor could obtain access to that database and alter the records. When records are altered on the blockchain, there is a history of the record state. Furthermore, we have a good way of timestamping records, to prove that something existed on a particular date. It is also possible to configure a network in a consortia of trusted nodes, such that the information contained in these records would only be visible to trusted parties.

The third area is around source credibility. The web of trust is a powerful idea first proposed by Phil Zimmerman of PGP fame, that provides a decentralised trust model to establish the authenticity of the binding between a public key and its owner. This web of trust model could be taken with the identity keys of various sources to make some statement about the credibility of that source. Source reputation would provide a useful contextual and reliability filter in environments where there is a lot of information pouring in, much of it from new or unclear sources.

Persistent source identity, record integrity and source credibility are just a few of the possibilities enabled by not only the blockchain but cryptography in general.

Project FiveARM’s source reputation blockchain solution

Our proposed source reputation blockchain seeks to integrate these technologies to create a system for rating source and source material credibility. While the blockchain is a decentralised technology, and within the community there are several efforts to create a decentralised reputation system, credible news gathering is necessarily hierarchical with news editors ultimately bearing the responsibility for publishing credible and factual news.

As such, our reputation system is anchored by a root key pair belonging to a particular news organisation. That root key can appoint other organisations to the consortium blockchain, granting such organisations permission to write to the source chain database. Editors from those trusted organisation can then appoint journalists to carry out the task of rating source material.

We propose a checklist, that creates a score for the source material based on several aspects. The credibility of a source would be a reflection of the credibility of the material they contribute over a period of time. The simplest approach would be to average the scores and to map that value to a given range.

These ratings could be written into a smart contract on the Ethereum or Hyperledger blockchain. The source identifier would be their public key. The identifier for each piece of source material could be a hash of that data.

Storing this information on the blockchain would open the possibility for collaboration between news organisations, as various participating new outlets contribute to the credibility score of a particular piece of source material, and thus the credibility of the related source.

Project FiveARM is currently exploring these possibilities, and developing a Proof of Concept.   We welcome and invite contributors, collaborators, ideas and feedback – especially those with blockchain and coding experience.

Contact the Team


Can a Secure Crisis Journalism tool combat the fake news cyclone? Introducing Project FiveARM, a comprehensive secure source/field data verification collaboration.

April 2017

By Nick Chesterfield, Project FiveARM Coordinator

How can we use technology to cover crises better? Nick Chesterfield introduces Project FIVEARM, a collaboration between journalists, human rights investigators, advocates, and technologists that will allow people to securely collect credible eyewitness accounts. This project won a 2016 Walkley Grant for Innovation.

Crisis reporting is chaotic.

Imagine you have seen state violence, as a survivor, witness, investigator or journalist.

To prevent a repeat, you need the world to care — or at least acknowledge that something bad happened.

But imagine that you’re in a media black spot. Foreign journalists are banned. Local journalists and advocates can’t gather information, because they risk violent suppression or even murder.

Imagine you are in a place so inaccessible, that even if journalists could travel there, it would take weeks and huge resources to get there, let alone be able to gather credible evidence.

This is daily reality in Indonesian-occupied Papua. Propaganda is rife, state proxy armed groups operate with impunity. State violence is a daily reality.

And — like in many such places around the world — the stories of those suffering are often discredited because source material can’t be verified, because they can’t cut through viral propaganda, or even because of translation errors. The chaos sows confusion and kills veracity.


Since 2007, the WestPapuaMedia  team worked incredibly hard to collect, verify and strengthen witness journalist reports from the ground, using a robust information collection process.  We prioritised the raw voices on the ground over official spin of the powerful. We utilised an indigenous perspective, instead of a colonialist Western media lens.  We respected the veracity of experience of witness journalism, and refused to impose realpolitik spin.  Just the unbridled facts, without the propaganda.  Our in-depth investigations, local partnerships and global dissemination helped to significantly change the media landscape in Papua, from being a global media blackspot, to making Indonesia’s Foreign Media Ban entirely redundant.

Sadly our investigations were undermined by editorialising corporate and state journalists, outdated narrative by ingénue Western journalists, and well-meaning but unprofessional foreign solidarity activists using propaganda, unchecked rumour spreading and unsourced, clickbait decontextualized images of state violence.  Credible journalists and human rights investigators in West Papua were shouting carefully investigated and verified reports against a cyclone of manipulated fake news. This sorry state was being used as justification for wilful ignorance by perpetrator-entangled corporate media and governments.

The WestPapuaMedia project was put on hold in late 2016, so that we could tackle these root problems of crisis reporting. Our plan: to investigate and develop useful and secure mobile technology that would enable people to share credible verified reportage globally and in real time.

Two side projects were born. One is the EyeSAFEMojo Safe Witness Journalism Project, which provides research, training and support of frontline witness media creators and rights defenders in repressive environments, for safe, secure communications, digital security, data gathering, witness journalism and safety training.

The other is Project FiveARM, which stands for Field Investigation Vertically Exhaustive Assessment and Reporting Methodology for Human Security Incidents.

So what is FiveARM?

FiveARM assumes human rights workers, interviewers, journalists and investigators are only going to have one chance to access an incident scene, and must be able to interview witnesses, victims, stakeholders or even perpetrators, without the possibility for follow-up questioning or clarification.

At its core is a simple premise.  Secure, exhaustive information collection in the field can enable credible source data from human security incidents, to be shared as globally actionable reportage and witness journalism.

We aim to build a secured tool for people to collect such information. It will use a methodology we’re developing that helps interviewers get standardised responses to essential questions —  like “Who did what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” — whilst allowing space for responses “outside the boxes” like anecdotes.

The idea is to eliminate subjectivity, – a critical issue that often creates multiple abuse reports, false events and locations, and misidentification of both victims and perpetrators —   Controlled vocabulary enables abuse data to be structured for search, analysis and machine reading, in order to future-proof massive data sets for real time trend analysis.  The first part of the project is to create a structure for the data to be collected. The future will then introduce powerful tools to utilise that data.

FiveARM’s unprecedented robust methodology creates a one-stop fact-collection, verification, newsroom sharing and pattern analysis tool for crisis journalism, human rights and human security reporting, on secure encrypted smartphones or tablets, building on the existing, proven Human Rights Bulletin System software user environment, created by

We have recently firmed up our partnership with Benetech, and look forward to the significant progress that will be made through this partnership, especially with the technical challenges in introducing new technologies into a proven system.

I was thrilled to be invited by the Walkley Foundation to an intensive pitch development workshop to have a chance to share this project with some of Australia’s leading journalists. On behalf of the project team, I am incredibly grateful for the support received from Walkleys, and their wonderful hardworking staff, culminating with winning a A$15,000 share in the 2016 Walkley Grants for Innovation in Journalism.

This grant enables the project to move ahead with its initial year’s goals:

  • Perfect & live-test our questioning methodology in a form that is both locally intuitive and exhaustive, and then convert, finalise and verify basic XML code for the customisation
  • Create training materials & how-to guides
  • Train & equip 10 journalists inside and outside Papua with secure smartphones to test the application, together with a full suite of tested open-source secure witness journalism tools via our press Safe Witness Journalism parent project.

We will soon launch a major crowdfunding presence to enable the fast and sustainable development of this much-needed tool, to pay for the smooth escalation of the next phases, equipment purchase and training to roll this out to the frontline where it is needed.

FiveArm’s people include Broadcast and Investigative Journalists, Filmmakers, Editors, Human Rights investigators, Lawyers, Environmental advocates and scientists, Blockchain, Coding and Digital Security Specialists, Survey Design specialists, academics, an anthropologist or two, Refugee workers, Peacekeepers, and even former intelligence agents who have rebelled against the Dark Side.  Women, Men, and a few other non-binaries.

These members currently come from a wide variety of social backgrounds including, People of Colour, marginalised frontline communities, and indigenous people from across Pacific (Including West Papua, PNG, and Aboriginal Australia), Indonesia, Australia, NZ, Europe, US/Canada.  We will be reaching out to further constituencies as the project progresses, including demobilised, de-radicalised and rehabilitated abusers.

Obviously the majority of our people cannot be named publicly for their field security, and ability to keep reporting from these repressive environments, however those that can be identified so far, include:

  • Daniel Pye, an investigative journalist and researcher based in Asia. He has spent the past six years reporting from the Middle East and Southeast Asia on issues ranging from illegal deforestation to land rights and conflict. As part of the Project FiveARM team, Dan hopes to contribute towards FiveARM’s financial sustainability, technical development and grassroots implementation.
  • Citt Williams, an international documentary filmmaker and environmental scientist who has been working closely with indigenous storytellers for 15 years.  Citt will be contributing to survey design and question iterations, looking specifically at the way information communications are structured in the project, and addressing intercultural media ecology issues of how people respond to interview processes and information sharing, amongst other contributions.
  • Hugo O’Connor, a co-founder and Head of Innovation of Bit Trade Australia, Australia’s leading fixed price bitcoin exchange. Prior to that, Hugo started and ran a not-for-profit juice company whose aim was to support public interest journalism.  He currently works as a software developer at Bit Trade Labs, a blockchain product incubator.   Hugo says, “What appeals to me about the Five Arms project is how it is using technology to amplify the voices of those who for too long have been voiceless. I’m hoping to help build out a source reputation system to assist journalists to find the most important stories.”
  • My name is Nick Chesterfield.  I am the Project initiator, and a human rights journalist, digital journalism safety trainer, and co-founding Editor of the clandestine witness journalism project WestPapuaMedia. I have provided support and training to indigenous journalists, environmental and human rights defenders across Indonesia, Timor, Melanesia and Aboriginal Australia over the last 20 years, specifically focusing on the provision of credible information collection, citizen media safety, and civil resistance journalism.

All members of the team are already putting forward many useful and innovative ideas, in addition to the core methodology project. We are developing blockchain technology for secure verification of sources and their reputation. We’re examining and testing innovative techniques to catch out disinformation. We’re looking at new visualisation techniques both in collection and reporting.  And we’re excited about the potential for real time algorithmic analysis of the data that our tool will generate.

We’re very keen to hear from more coders and journalism innovators to get involved, as well as translators, video producers, graphic designers, and of course professional crowdfunding and grant fundraisers.

FiveARM will progress methodically, and scientifically. Done right, there is no limit to how this tool can be used.

Without FiveARM, impunity will continue to reign. With FiveARM, we’ll have a tool that might just mean no more dark places.

Keep an eye on this blog at or follow us at


Project FiveARM secure crisis journalism source data collection project, ProjectFiveARM, wins 2016 Walkley Grant for Innovation in Journalism

by Nick Chesterfield

Project FIVEARM Coodrinator & Editor at West Papua Media.

October 21, 2016

Westpapuamedia’s special secure field journalism source data collection project, @ProjectFiveARM has won a 2016 Walkley Grants for Innovation in Journalism.

I wish thank the grant judges, James Kirby, wealth editor of The Australian & co-founder of Eureka Report, Ramin Marzbani, leading technology, internet and financial services analyst, and Jacqui Park, CEO of the Walkley Foundation, for believing in the need to support indigenous journalists in West Papua and beyond, to be able to securely collect tested, credible source data from human security incidents, to share as globally actionable reportage and witness journalism.…/

“FiveARM Crisis Journalism Secure Reporting Tool

Nick Chesterfield (West Papua Media)

Award: $15,000

FiveARM will help get accurate reports out of hard to access crisis areas by connecting eyewitness accounts with simple, secure and tested smartphone technology. Nick is working on coding a scientific information collection process, that can be used for reporting human security issues and eyewitness reports from crisis areas – local independent journalists will be able to use this tool to record witness statements into credible, verified reports suitable for journalists, UN agencies and more. After local testing on existing and new datasets, Nick will roll out the app on secure smartphones and train independent journalists working in West Papua to test the application. Ultimately he hopes the app will be useful (with basic customisation) in any crisis situation anywhere around the world.”

This project is just beginning. A major crowd funding campaign will be forthcoming shortly, to pay for the next phases and the equipment and training to roll this out. We absolutely are looking for coders and journalism innovators to get involved, as well as translators, video producers, graphic designers, and of course fundraisers. Keep watching for more.

Further grants are being sought by interested bodies to pay for translations, equipment, necessary travel and training workshops, as well as onngoing salary support. Please contact us at fivearm<@> if you are able to assist.

Crowdsourced Donations greatly welcomed to bring this project even wider. Please donate via