Sierra Leone: What We Got Off-base
Blockchain technology might have the potential to change the plant but misrepresenting its true achievements can only sow public disbelief and set the industry back.
The recent uproar and disagreement on the part of Agora, a blockchain startup, in the Sierra Leone presidential election serve as a case in point.
While an Agora official has taken responsibility for media coverage that exaggerated its association, which uncovered the news to the world for the first time on 8th March.
In the first place, Agora represented as an international observer in the Sierra Leone election, and it was authorized for this role by the African nation’s National Electoral Commission (NEC). Essentially, Agora did not do the official vote count; that was the NEC’s job.
Instead, it gave an independent count of ballots that the official outcome could be correlated against, and just for the Western district of Sierra Leone, not the entire nation. Agora workers on the ground manually recorded its count on a private blockchain.
That in itself was a first for the technology worthy story to report. Numerous media outlets made it seems like Agora was running the actual election for the government on a blockchain.
The initial title for our March 8 story, “Sierra Leone Secretly Holds First Blockchain-Powered Presidential Vote,” while vague, could simply have given readers the wrong idea (the adjective was later changed to “Blockchain-Audited”).
Further, the article at first posted didn’t note that Agora’s work was restricted towards western district (a detail added after publication), nor did it explicitly spell out the organization’s limited role as an onlooker, again potentially misleading readers.
Nonetheless, the early coverage over the media has led to “fake news” allegation (mostly directed at Agora) and usually left the terrible taste.
The NEC itself, in a 19th March tweet, firmly said that it “does not use blockchain in any way.”
Jaron Lukasiewicz, Agora’s chief operating officer and the principal source in our 8th March article, issued a mea culpa.
“I would like to acknowledge that any misunderstandings in the media are my responsibility, though they were unintentional. I am implementing new processes for future media events covering Agora.”
Moreover, while interviewed by journalist Michael del Castillo for the first article, Lukasiewicz for sure talked loosely, and maybe with a bit of exaggeration.
Saying things such as this:
“You’re looking at a country that you probably wouldn’t normally expect to be the first to use transparent voting tech. But a country like Sierra Leone can ultimately minimize a lot of the fall-out of a highly contentious election by using software like this.”
Although, we acknowledge that the uncertainty in the March 8 article likely added to the confusion and should have chosen our words more carefully.