• the beginning of something's existence; something's origin.
• a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.
- Definitions from Oxford Languages
The concept of provenance is by no means new or novel, but is relevant to addressing misinformation in digital communication channels. Historically, museums record details of provenance for their collections. These details serve various purposes, including settling disputes about authenticity and ownership.
The provenance may be debated (with stolen art) or cause for alarm (when related to antiquities). Provenance is more objective and factual than other aspects of production and lends authority to an institution. But, in owning this provenance, power is concentrated by institutions rather than distributed to the public or creators of the work.
The need for authenticity in digital communication is being addressed via technological interventions (CAI, C2PA), where verifying the ownership or authorship and production processes can prevent and resolve disputes and misunderstanding, as well. However, much as the museums concentrate power through provenance records, the technological interventions could be counter to some democratic goals.
Improved methodologies and transparency about gathering information could add more validity, accountability, and trust to communication channels. It would empower individuals to create knowledge and ultimately improve democratic processes. Democratic processes would be improved by additional authoritative perspectives on news and themes. The technological interventions aren't necessarily mutually exclusive to improved methodologies, but they overshadow deeper needs and solutions.
An article called "A Historical Sociology of the Authentication of News" about the history and context for disinformation was brought to my attention via a C2PA announcement. I'm not a contributor to C2PA but I appreciate the inclusiveness and transparency of the group and the CAI. The article discusses the role of first person messengers.
Beyond the technological interventions for the production and dissemination of news, the information gathering process is equally significant as a foundation of "authenticity". The process, whether using digital or analog tools, depends on the diligence and skill of individuals gathering aspects of the story.
The methods, which are often qualitative, can be assisted by technology but not replaced by it. Thorough reporting over the course of weeks or years that communicates about culture and history, that frames the storytelling within a perspective, and which is presented in cohesive, deep narratives, is foundational to the technological interventions being developed around provenance.