Sierra Leone Just Held the World’s First Blockchain-Powered Election

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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.

The post Sierra Leone Just Held the World’s First Blockchain-Powered Election appeared first on Futurism.


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Reddit says Russian propaganda was shared by ‘thousands’ ahead of the 2016 election

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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.”

Reddit has been very quiet about its role in the 2016 election despite public concerns from politicians that were voiced as far back as September.

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.

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President Trump plans to remove key election security official

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.

Observers expect Masterson’s replacement to be former prosecutor Christy…

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Paul Ryan moves to replace election security official

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…
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To Stop Russian Election Meddlers, Facebook Goes Analog

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.

The post To Stop Russian Election Meddlers, Facebook Goes Analog appeared first on Futurism.


Facebook plans to thwart election ad fraud with postcards

In an effort to prevent foreign actors from surreptitiously manipulating audiences with ads concerning US elections, Facebook will send postcards in the mail to verify advertisers’ presence in the country, reports Reuters. Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs, said that the plan will go into effect before the Congressional midterm elections in November. The idea is that if your ad mentions a candidate in the running, you’ll receive a postcard sent to your address stateside with a code that you’ll have to authenticate with. That’s an interesting choice for a security practice to prevent election funding by foreign…

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Facebook will mail out postcards to verify US election advertisers

Facebook plans to mail out verification postcards through the US postal service to anyone purchasing ads related to US elections, according to Reuters. The postcards will contain a special code that advertisers must provide back to Facebook to prove they’re in the United States.

This new verification system will be required for all advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for a federal office — such as the presidency. It will be implemented in time for the mid-term elections this coming November.

“If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States,” Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs, said on…

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Facebook will send postcards to verify US election ad buyers

Facebook has a new yet very old solution to fighting Russian manipulation attempts during future US elections: conventional mail. Global policy program director Katie Harbath has revealed that the social network will send postcards to verify the ide…
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President Trump is using tweets from a Facebook executive to argue Russia didn’t influence the election

“The Fake News Media never fails,” Trump added.

President Donald Trump found an unlikely ally in his mission to convince the internet that Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election didn’t actually help get him elected: Facebook advertising executive Rob Goldman.

Goldman, Facebook’s VP of ad products, sent a series of tweets late Friday that said, among other things, that “swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal” of the thousands of dollars of Facebook ads bought by Russian actors during and after the 2016 election.

“Most of the coverage of Russian meddling involves their attempt to effect the outcome of the 2016 US election. I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was *NOT* the main goal,” Goldman wrote Friday.

“The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election,” he continued, linking to this post from Facebook’s blog. “We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election.”

The tweets came about 24 hours after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for “seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election.” Mueller’s report did say that Russia’s social media campaign included “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

Trump pounced on Saturday, retweeting both of Goldman’s tweets and adding his own commentary.

“The Fake News Media never fails,” he tweeted. “Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman!”

What went unsaid in these tweets is that there were thousands of posts shared on Facebook and other social networking sites, like Twitter, that were not ads, but still reached millions of potential voters. Facebook said that ads purchased by Russian sources reached 10 million users, but all posts from Russian accounts — including non-ads that were posted for free — reached as many as 126 million users.

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US indicts 13 Russian nationals for alleged election tampering

Today, the office of special counsel Robert Mueller announced that a federal jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to defraud the US. The charges mean t…
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