Amid growing pressure to remove bad actors from Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that the company would likely release more information about problematic content posted to the service during elections. But to ensure the accuracy of the data, Zuckerberg said, the reports will likely come after the elections are over. The move could help government officials, academic researchers, and concerned citizens understand whether Facebook’s increased attention to abuse is working — but the timing could make it harder for grasp what’s happening when it arguably matters most.
A recently unearthed document from Facebook shows that Donald Trump’s team outperformed Hillary Clinton’s in nearly every meaningful metric on its ad network during the 2016 election. Trump has often bragged of hiring the best people — a claim the White House turnover rate would seem to debunk — but this time, Facebook’s own data scientists agree: Trump did have the superior team. Or, maybe it’s the Cambridge Analytica effect. But that’s a story for a different day. First uncovered by Bloomberg, the paper details a heavy-handed approach to Facebook ads by both candidates. Between June and November 2016, Trump…
On March 7, Sierra Leone held the first presidential election using blockchain, the distributed ledger technology poised to transform our world.
At least, that’s what we were told.
That’s according to Agora, the Swiss-based blockchain startup that claimed to have facilitated the blockchain-based election.
“Sierra Leone’s 2018 presidential elections, which took place on March 7th, represents the first time in history that blockchain technology has been used in a national government election,” wrote Agora in a press release distributed on March 8. Media outlets — including TechCrunch, Quartz, and yes, Futurism— covered it accordingly.
But Sierra Leone’s election officials say that’s not what happened. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is the “sole authority” on Sierra Leone’s public elections, and the group has gone out of its way to make it clear that it did not use blockchain in the March 7 election.
First, the NEC shared a quote from Chief Electoral Commissioner/Chairperson Mohamed Conteh via Twitter on March 18:
— National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (@NECsalone) March 19, 2018
So, what exactly happened here?
Agora obtained permission from the NEC to act as “an international observer” at 280 of roughly 11,200 polling stations. Sierra Leone election officials recorded the paper votes as they would in any other election. Then, Agora’s team recorded those same votes on its blockchain. Later, it published those results on its website.
Essentially, Agora’s involvement with the Sierra Leone election was a proof-of-concept experiment. Like: “See? We can record an election and get the same result as government officials.”
In it, the company first laid out the facts of its involvement with the election. Then, Agora addressed where the controversy seems to have begun: a Medium post published on March 16, two days before the NEC’s first tweeted that blockchain wasn’t involved in the country’s elections.
As Agora notes, the author of that post, Tamba Lamin, is the CTO of LAM-TECH, a tech consulting company that sponsors the Sierra Leone Open Election Data Platform (SLOEDP), a software platform designed for the collection and sharing of data about Sierra Leone elections (and apparently an Agora competitor).
In its official statement, Agora says, “Most of the media pushback we have received over the past week stems from…[SLOEDP].” The company even not-so-subtly suggests why that might be:
While we are unclear about the motivations of SLOEDP, their stated description as “an open source platform to facilitate free, fair, safe, secure and transparent elections” is directly competing or overlapping in nature with Agora’s technology. Furthermore, slides from a LAM-TECH public presentation on the electiondata.io website show clear conflicts of interest between our two organizations.
So, was this “controversy” surrounding Agora’s role in the Sierra Leone election simply one election-recording company looking for a chance to paint a competitor as a liar? Or was Agora overtly trying to make it seem like they were more involved than they were?
It might be a bit of both.
While most of Agora’s wording post-election leaves room for interpretation, a couple of lines sure make it seem like the company played some sort of official role beyond that of “observer”:
“The National Electoral Commission’s decision to work with Agora…” [March 8 press release]
“Sierra Leone is the first government to use blockchain in part of its election process…” [March 8 press release]
“[Agora is] engaged in Sierra Leone presidential elections…” [message from CEO Leonardo Gammar to Agora’s Telegram group on March 8]
Agora is now taking at least some responsibility for the misleading media coverage surrounded the Sierra Leone election. CEO Leonardo Gammar told Cointelegraph on March 29:
There was some miscommunication on our behalf, and I think we learned a lot because of it. We made a few mistakes when speaking to journalists, and when we sought to clear it up, it was all too late. We got very excited about the technology and the way in which it could help people — like a lot of companies do in the blockchain space — and I think we came on too strong for the NEC.
Gammar also said the company has hired someone to help them with its “PR game,” so that they present all future projects accurately.
If there’s one thing the blockchain space doesn’t need, it’s unwarranted hype overshadowing the technology’s true potential.
Did Facebook unknowingly help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
We’ll probably never know, but Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg are trying to avoid another instance in the future where that might even be a question.
The company published a blog post on Thursday outlining some of the steps it’s taking to prevent foreign governments from using Facebook to try and manipulate an election, like Russian actors did on Facebook during the 2016 campaign.
A lot of the steps are things Facebook has already talked about‚ like fact-checking stories that show up in News Feed and adding stricter requirements for advertisers who buy political ads on the social network.
The most notable update is that Facebook started fact-checking photos and videos this week in France, in addition to fact checking text stories that people share. “We’re starting in France with the AFP [Agence France-Presse] and will be scaling to more countries and partners soon,” the post reads.
A few other things Facebook is doing:
The social network is notifying people who share fake news that they shared fake news, and also wants to “warn people who try to share it going forward.”
Facebook is close to rolling out the new political ad dashboard that it announced last fall. The dashboard will let people see who is buying what political ads, and the company has already been testing it in Canada. It plans to roll it out in the U.S. this summer.
Facebook is trying to prevent bad actors from getting started at all. The company says it’s blocking “millions of fake accounts each day at the point of creation.”
Will all this work? That’s the big question.
In an interview with The New York Times this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company is expecting that foreign governments like Russia will continue to meddle if they can.
“I feel a lot better about the systems now. At the same time, I think Russia and other governments are going to get more sophisticated in what they do, too,” Zuckerberg said. “So we need to make sure that we up our game. This is a massive focus for us to make sure we’re dialed in for not only the 2018 elections in the U.S., but the Indian elections, the Brazilian elections, and a number of other elections that are going on this year that are really important.”
Cambridge Analytica's Facebook data harvesting hasn't just prompted lawsuits over the privacy violations — it's now sparking a legal battle over its role in US elections. ABC News has learned that watchdog group Common Cause has filed complaints wit… Engadget RSS Feed
On March 7, 2018, blockchain startup Agora oversaw the results of Sierra Leone’s presidential election, marking the first use of the technology in this capacity.
For voters, the process wasn’t any different than previous elections. They arrived at their polling center, showed election officials their IDs, and then cast their votes on a paper ballot for one of 16 candidates.
What happened next was unlike any other election, though. As Agora’s chief operating officer Jaron Lukasiewicz explained to Coindesk, the Swiss startup then manually recorded the votes on a permissioned blockchain.
Permissioned blockchains aren’t quite the same as public blockchains, like those supporting the cryptocurrencies bitcoin. While anyone can validate transactions on a public blockchain, only authorized persons can validate transactions on a permissioned blockchain.
In the case of the Sierra Leone election, the authorized parties included people from Agora, the Red Cross, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the University of Freiburg.
However, like a public blockchain, anyone can view transactions recorded on a permissioned blockchain. That means that once the groups managing the blockchain verified the Sierra Leone votes, anyone — voters, candidates, or just interested third parties — could see the election results.
According to Agora, the company even produced their results two hours sooner than election officials.
Sierra Leone has a history of violence surrounding elections, with several incidents reported in the days prior to 2018’s presidential election. The nation’s government is also more corrupt than most, so the small West African country served as an appropriate testing ground for a technology designed to increase fairness in the election process.
“A country like Sierra Leone can ultimately minimize a lot of the fall-out of a highly contentious election by using software like this,” Lukasiewicz told Coindesk.
Agora’s use of blockchain for the Sierra Leone election isn’t the company’s ultimate vision for the technology. Eventually, the startup hopes to eliminate the use of paper ballots altogether, allowing voters to cast their votes via personal electronic devices. This will cut down on election costs, increase voter accessibility, and eliminate a potential avenue for corruption.
Still, Agora’s work in Sierra Leone marked an important milestone on the path to a more transparent and fair democracy built on blockchain technology.
Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.
Reddit didn’t find any Russian ads about the 2016 election, but there was plenty of non-ad content being shared.
It’s widely known that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were used by Russian sources during the 2016 U.S. presidential election to try and sway public opinion.
Now we know for certain that Reddit was also part of Russia’s disinformation strategy.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman posted Monday that the company is in the middle of an “ongoing investigation” into how Russian sources may have used the platform in the run-up to the 2016 election and that Reddit has “removed a few hundred accounts” that were knowingly sharing Russian propaganda.
Huffman also implied that Russian sources did not buy ads on Reddit — “All ads on Reddit are reviewed by humans” — but that “thousands” of users unknowingly shared Russian propaganda that may have first appeared on other sites, like Twitter.
Huffman says that tweets from @TEN_GOP on Twitter, a fake account run by Russians and masquerading as the Republican party of Tennessee, were “amplified by thousands of Reddit users.” That’s from just one Twitter account. There were thousands of Russian-controlled Twitter accounts tweeting Russian propaganda ahead of the election.
“Sadly, from everything we can tell, these [Reddit] users are mostly American, and appear to be unwittingly promoting Russian propaganda,” Huffman wrote. “I believe the biggest risk we face as Americans is our own ability to discern reality from nonsense, and this is a burden we all bear.”
Huffman says that the company is now “cooperating with Congressional inquiries,” though he didn’t say which inquiries or committees he was referring to.
In February, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals for using social media to try and support Donald Trump or discredit Hillary Clinton. Reddit was not mentioned in that indictment, but is clearly a part of the bigger story.
We’ve asked Reddit to clarify how many users may have unknowingly shared Russian propaganda in total. We’ve also asked what investigations it is “cooperating” with. We’ll update if we hear back.
Election Assistance Commission chairman Matthew Masterson is being removed from his post by the White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to a report from Reuters. Appointed to the commission in 2014 and serving as chairman since February, Masterson was expected to be appointed to a second four-year term.
It’s unclear why Masterson was removed, but the timing is likely to be a significant blow to the ongoing effort to secure voting machines against hacking. Less than nine months remain before the 2018 elections, and several types of voting machines remain vulnerable to remote hacking through remote-access software attacks and other vulnerabilities.
The White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan are looking to replace a federal official who's been working to protect election systems from possible Russian cyber attacks. According to Reuters, Matthew Masterson, who holds a seat picked by the House Sp… Engadget RSS Feed
Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 individuals and several groups from Russia for using social media tools like Facebook ads to influence the 2016 Presidential Election, Facebook has responded with a plan to stop such interference from happening again.
Ironically, despite the high-tech nature of cyber crime and the constantly-connected world of social media, Facebook has chosen to take a very old-school approach to prevent future election meddling.
At this week’s National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Washington DC, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director Katie Harbath announced that the company will be rolling out a new verification measure for those who purchase Facebook ads for political figures on the platform. Once the purchase is made online, a postcard with a verification code will be sent to the address the buyer provides (which needs to be in the U.S.). The buyer will have to enter the snail-mailed code on the site in order to complete the transaction and see the ad go live.
Yes, you heard that right: the social media megalith is mailing out postcards. Physical postcards that will take a few days at least to appear in your mailbox, stamp and all.
Harbath admitted to Reuters that the offline strategy “won’t solve everything” that came to define social media’s involvement in the hacking scandal, but said it’s the most immediately implementable solution the company could respond with on the heels of Mueller’s indictments.
The postcards will go to U.S. businesses that purchase Facebook ads making mention of specific political candidates (such as endorsing a presidential candidate), but won’t be mailed out to verify issue-based political ads.
Last fall, Facebook’s vice president of ads, Rob Goldman, published a blog announcing the company’s commitment to increasing its transparency about ad sales. While no specifics were given in the post, it did make mention of increased verification efforts and a searchable database of federal election ads. As for the postcards, Harbath said the postcard-verification protocol was expected to roll out before this year’s midterm elections in November.