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More voting software FUD falls flat after Trump highlights dubious data

Reports that Dominion Software, which provides voting tabulation tools to about half the states in the U.S., “deleted” millions of votes have been soundly rebuffed after outgoing President Trump parroted numbers from a random internet forum.

Tweeting Thursday morning about baseless claims of election fraud, Trump cited OANN, a right-wing news outlet, which itself seemed to have found its numbers in a thread on pro-Trump Reddit knock-off thedonald.win. (The tweet was quickly wrapped in a warning that the contents are disputed.)

The anonymous person posting there claimed to have compared numbers from Edison Research, a company that does exit polls and other election-related measures, to those from Dominion, and come up with very different sums. The methods are not very well explained, nor are the results. It’s not really clear what is being compared to what and why, or for what reason this alleged fraud was published publicly by the company supposedly perpetrating it. No one has verified (if that’s the word) this analysis in any way.

In a comment to Politifact, Edison President Larry Rosin wrote that “we have no evidence of any voter fraud,” and that it pretty much has no idea what the purported analysis is referring to.

Dominion attracted attention earlier in the week when it seemed that a glitch had caused a number of votes to be registered for President-elect Joe Biden instead of Trump. But the miscount was immediately caught and found to be the result of human error. The company has dedicated a page to combating the misinformation around its software.

Politifact rated Trump’s claim “Pants on Fire,” calling it “ridiculous” for good measure. It’s worth noting that the tweet didn’t even state the numbers of the supposed fraud correctly.

There doesn’t seem to be any merit to the “analysis” at all, but it provides an excellent example of how people who are unfamiliar with how the voting apparatus works — which is to say almost everyone not directly involved — tend to find the software portion inherently untrustworthy.

Yet there is no way to count, tabulate and verify millions of ballots in hours or days after an election that does not rely heavily on private software tools, and it is in fact highly reliable and secure. The process of elections is bipartisan and extremely closely monitored.

Elections commissioners and state leadership have been unanimous in declaring the election a surprisingly smooth one considering the difficulties of holding one during a pandemic and with extremely high turnout both in person and by mail.

A major federal committee under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security agency today called last week’s election “the most secure in American history… There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised. We can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too.”

Despite accusations from a dwindling number of highly placed individuals in the government, there has been no evidence presented that there was any significant voter fraud or other irregularities in last week’s election, which resulted in the victory of former vice president, now President-elect Joe Biden.

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Twitter labeled 300,000 US election tweets — around 0.2%

Just over a week after the U.S. elections, Twitter has offered a breakdown of some of its efforts to label misleading tweets. The site says that from October 27 to November 11, it labeled some 300,000 tweets as part of its Civic Integrity Policy. That amounts to around 0.2% of the total number of election-related tweets sent during that two-week period.

Of course, not all Twitter warnings are created equal. Only 456 of those included a warning that covered the text and limited user engagement, disabling retweets, replies and likes. That specific warning did go a ways toward limited engagement, with around three-fourths of those who encountered the tweets seeing the obscured texts (by clicking through the warning). Quote tweets for those so labeled decreased by around 29%, according to Twitter’s figures.

The president of the United States received a disproportionate number of those labels, as The New York Times notes that just over a third of Trump’s tweets between November 3 and 6 were hit with such a warning. The end of the election (insofar as the election has actually ended, I suppose) appears to have slowed the site’s response time somewhat, though Trump continues to get flagged, as he continues to devote a majority of his feed to disputing the election results confirmed by nearly every major news outlet.

His latest tweet as of this writing has been labeled disputed, but not hidden, as Trump repeats claims against voting machine maker, Dominion. “We also want to be very clear that we do not see our job as done,” Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead Vijaya Gadde and Product Lead Kayvon Beykpour wrote. “Our work here continues and our teams are learning and improving how we address these challenges.”

Twitter and other social media sites were subject to intense scrutiny following the 2016 election for the roles the platforms played in the spread of misinformation. Twitter sought to address the issue by tweaking recommendations and retweets, as well as individually labeling tweets that violate its policies.

Earlier today, YouTube defended its decision to keep controversial election-related videos, noting, “Like other companies, we’re allowing these videos because discussion of election results & the process of counting votes is allowed on YT. These videos are not being surfaced or recommended in any prominent way.”

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Facebook extends its temporary ban on political ads for another month

The election is settled, but the nation is far from it.

Before Election Day in the U.S., Facebook hit pause on all political and social issue ads. At the time, the company made it clear that the precautionary measure designed to turn off one potential faucet of misinformation would be temporary, but it couldn’t say how long the policy would remain in effect.

Now, Facebook says the temporary ban will continue for at least another month. The decision to extend the special policy was implemented Wednesday, four days after Joe Biden’s election victory — and four days after it became clear that Trump had no intention of conceding a lost election.

“The temporary pause for ads about politics and social issues in the US continues to be in place as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the election,” the company wrote in an update to its previous announcement. “Advertisers can expect this to last another month, though there may be an opportunity to resume these ads sooner.”

Facebook’s ongoing political ad pause throws a wrench into things in Georgia, where two January runoff elections will decide which party will control the Senate heading into President-Elect Biden’s administration. A friendly Senate is essential for many of Biden’s biggest proposals, including a $2 trillion climate package that could reshape the American economy and push the country toward an electrified future that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.

Over the last few days, a shocking number of Republicans have “humored” the president’s refusal to transfer power in spite of an unambiguous election call and Biden’s decisive win in Pennsylvania, which cut off any potential paths to victory for his opponent. The Trump campaign’s last-ditch flurry of legal challenges have presented little of substance so far, and they might ultimately be more about dividing a nation and sowing doubt than prevailing in court.

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Joe Biden wins the 2020 US presidential election

Following a tense week of vote tallying, Joe Biden won the state of Pennsylvania and vaulted ahead in the race to become the next president of the United States. Biden’s win in the critical state put him over the threshold of 270 electoral votes, cutting off all avenues for his opponent.

Biden prevailed by flipping key states that went to Trump in 2016, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump again won in Florida and Ohio, but in the end was unable to chart a path to an electoral victory. Biden also leads by millions in the popular vote, with a record number of votes cast this year, many through the mail.

As his vice president, Kamala Harris will make history in myriad ways, becoming the first woman — and the first woman of color — to occupy the office. Harris, a California senator and the state’s former attorney general, built a career in the tech industry’s front yard.

Shattered barriers aside, this year’s election will likely go down in infamy for many in the U.S. The race was the strangest in recent years, characterized by rising storms of misinformation, fears over the fate of scaled-up vote-by-mail systems and a deadly virus that’s claimed well over 230,000 American lives. Biden’s campaign was forced to adapt to drive-up rallies and digital campaigning instead of relying on door-knocking and face-to-face interaction to mobilize the vote.

The circumstances of the election also created the perfect ecosystem for misinformation — a situation made worse by President Trump’s false claim of victory early Wednesday morning and ongoing claims of Democratic voter fraud. Trump appears to be in no mood to concede the election, but in the end the vote is what it is and Joe Biden will take office on January 20, 2021.

While a sitting president rejecting that unwritten democratic norm would be alarming, Trump’s decision will have little bearing on the ultimate political outcome. Whatever the coming days hold, the U.S. is entering into a new and unprecedented phase of uncertainty in which misinformation abounds and political tensions and fears of politically-motivated violence are running high.

The former vice president’s win brings a four year run of Trumpism to an abrupt end, though its effects will still reverberate throughout American politics, likely for decades. It also ushers in a new era in which Joe Biden plans to draw on the influence of an unlikely coalition of Democrats from across the political spectrum. The Senate still hangs in the balance with two tight races in Georgia headed to January runoffs.

Biden has laid out plans for sweeping climate action, and a healthcare extension that would cover more Americans and provide an opt-in Medicare-like public option. But his ability to enact most of those grand plans would hinge on a Democratic Senate. While either party was likely to continue pursuing more aggressive regulation for the technology industry, we’ll be watching closely for signals of what’s to come for tech policy.

But even without the Senate, the president-elect may be capable of making a swift and critical impact where it’s most needed: the coronavirus pandemic. In the continued absence of a national plan to fight the virus and a White House that downplays its deadliness and discourages mask-wearing, COVID-19 is raging out of control in states across the country, signaling a very deadly winter just around the corner.

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Steve Bannon’s show pulled off Twitter and YouTube over calls for violence

Former presidential advisor and right-wing pundit Steve Bannon had his show suspended from Twitter and an episode removed by YouTube after calling for violence against FBI director Christopher Wray and the government’s leading pandemic expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Bannon, speaking with co-host Jack Maxey, was discussing what Trump should do in a hypothetical second term. He suggested firing Wray and Fauci, but then went further, saying “I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England, I’d put the heads on pikes, right, I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats.”

This may strike one at first as mere hyperbole — one may say “we want his head on a platter” and not really be suggesting they actually behead anyone. But the conversation continued and seemed to be more in earnest than it first appeared:

Maxey: Just yesterday there was the anniversary of the hanging of two Tories in Philadelphia. These were Quaker businessmen who had cohabitated, if you will, with the British while they were occupying Philadelphia. These people were hung. This is what we used to do to traitors.

Bannon: That’s how you won the revolution. No one wants to talk about it. The revolution wasn’t some sort of garden party, right? It was a civil war. It was a civil war.

Whether one considers this only nostalgia for the good old days of mob justice or an actual call to bring those days back, the exchange seems to have been enough for moderators at YouTube and Twitter to come down hard on the pair’s makeshift broadcast.

Twitter confirmed that it has “permanently suspended” (i.e. it can be appealed but won’t be restored automatically) the account for violating the rule against glorifying violence.

Social media election takedowns

YouTube removed the episode from “Steve Bannon’s War Room” channel Wednesday afternoon after it was brought to their attention. A representative for the platform said “We’ve removed this video for violating our policy against inciting violence. We will continue to be vigilant as we enforce our policies in the post-election period.”

Online platforms have struggled with finding the line between under and over-moderation. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and others have all taken different measures, from preemptively turning off features to silently banning hashtags. Facebook today took down a group with more than 300,000 members that was acting as an amplifier for misinformation about the election.

While the platforms have been vigorous in at least some ways in the labeling and isolation of misinformation, it’s more difficult for video platforms. Just minutes ago Trump took to YouTube to detail a variety of unfounded conspiracy theories about mail-in voting, but the platform can’t exactly do a live fact-check of the president and shut down his channel. More than with text-based networks, video tends to spread before it is caught and flagged due to the time it takes to review it.

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Dear Sophie: How will this election nail-biter affect immigration?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

The last 24 hours have been a nail-biter; I feel powerless and I’m angry that we’ve come to this. I’m worried things won’t improve and I’m confused about where we even stand.

Sometimes I just feel so very, very tired of the struggle. I am just so ready to let go. I want to live in a world where we can create harmony, peace and opportunity for all. Can I still find that in the United States?

— Wanting in Walnut Creek

Dear Wanting,

I hear you.

The good news is that there is great potential, even as the world watches the U.S. presidential election results. If anything, what the last four years have taught me is that two clichés are really true: necessity is the mother of invention, and, where there is a will, there is a way. I can relate to many folks around the world because I know what it’s like to have the world of Silicon Valley feel so close, yet so far away, at a time when I felt powerless to make a difference.

Looking back over the past four years, amazing things have been possible for our clients and my team at Alcorn Immigration Law. I founded the firm out of my kitchen just years ago when my kids were toddlers. I would look out my kitchen window hand-washing tiny baby dishes. I can still remember the feeling of the suds on my fingers as I gazed longingly at the tall building on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View where 500 Startups used to sit on the top floor. YC was just down the street.

I felt so powerless. I desperately wanted to make the world a better place, and reaching the world of Silicon Valley, even though it was just past my backyard, seemed like getting to Mars.

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From those humble beginnings to now, as I founded and bootstrapped Alcorn Immigration Law on my own journey of becoming a single mom, I know what’s possible, even during the last four years of the Trump administration. We’ve had amazing success — claiming thousands of victories in supporting companies, people and families to live and work legally in the United States. If I was able to grow my firm during the last four years, I know that it’s possible for anybody to follow their heart and succeed. It’s our human essence to long to be a creator in this world, and anybody can and deserves to make a difference.

And here is what else I know: immigration law is created by acts of Congress and signed into law by the president. Mere tweets may be intended to try to bend the rules, but they cannot break them. That is what democracy is about.

In democracy, we have agreed to abide by basic laws, such as the inviolable dignity of the human being and that we want to agree on procedures for how we make decisions, like the process of passing a law about immigration. Democracy is not about majority tyranny. Democracy is about the fact that we uphold a few principles and we agreed on a decision-making process. When Trump ignores our basic laws and he ignores our legal processes, democracy is in peril.

But democracy does not need to be disrupted, it only requires small adjustments to thrive. In any group it is possible to make jointly supported decisions, taking the needs and resources of all into consideration. “Although the world is complex and decision making is complex, the components of decision making are simple,” according to Richard Graf, founder of K-i-E. Simple tools like the DecisionMaker can allow a miracle to happen — in an environment of openness and anonymity, we can all safely share our needs and concerns so that proposals can be formed based on collective best practices, knowledge, experience, intelligence and intuition. Even if it’s a complex situation, the way forward can immediately become clear.

And in our democracy, the paths to live and work in the U.S. will always remain viable, even if we need to remove a branch or navigate around a new boulder. Here at Alcorn, despite the furor and fear-mongering present in the world surrounding immigration, we are continually securing real victories for our clients. Not a client yet? Global founders can still create a startup, pitch it to investors and secure pathways to live and work legally in the United States with visas, green cards and citizenship.

So I know this and will repeat: Whatever the election results, there will still be many ways for people to legally navigate the U.S. immigration process and access the opportunity and security of life here. For more insight on these ways, please join my Election Results Webinar next week.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on how the election results will affect the future of U.S. immigration:

Looking ahead, if Biden takes the victory, he has pledged to undo all Trump-era immigration regulations in the first 100 days and support comprehensive immigration reform. He promised to promote immigrant entrepreneurship, which could finally mean a startup visa! He also wants to speed up naturalization, rescind the Muslim travel bans, pass legislation to expand the number of H-1Bs, increase the amount of employment-based green cards, exempt international STEM PhD graduates from needing to await a priority date, create a new type of green card to promote regional economic development and support immigrant entrepreneur incubators.

Alternatively, we can expect that a Trump administration would continue restricting immigration, leading to litigation and judges deciding the fate of many recent policies. We can foresee a continued COVID freeze on green card interviews at consulates.

Also, DHS recently announced its intent to remove the randomness from the H-1B lottery and prioritize the annual H-1B selection process from highest to lowest wage starting in spring 2021. I’m sure there will be litigation about this; in the meantime, Alcorn Immigration Law continues to recommend that all employers proceed with registering employees and candidates in the lottery as usual. These details will take time to shake out and we don’t want anybody to lose a chance at being selected.

In other updates, immigration is just continuing along and there is actually some great news for folks: The State Department recently released the November Visa Bulletin and it stayed the same from October. (If you think your priority date is current or may be current soon, please contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss filing your I-485 this month to avoid the possibility of retrogression in December!)

And if you need the freedom to build your startup, but were told that you don’t yet qualify for an O-1A visa, EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card, you can join me in Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp with promo code DEARSOPHIE to receive 20% off.

We’re optimistic about the future. Life always offers us opportunities to grow through contrast and uncertainty, and we remain passionate about our mission to create greater freedom, empowerment, knowledge and love in the world.

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

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YouTube removes ads from, but won’t pull, ‘Trump Won’ video following backlash

This year’s presidential election has already proven to be a considerable test of the U.S. democratic system. It’s also been doing a fine job testing the systems behind leading social networks four years after a rather disinformation-ridden election. Twitter today has proven to be reasonably swift — if not entirely proactive — in its push to label problematic information.

Video, which is largely considered more difficult to police, has been another story on many of these sites. At issue are videos like One American News Network’s (OAN) “Trump Won.” Posted this morning, the report echoes the president’s earlier sentiment that he has both won the election and that states and/or the Democratic Party are attempting to “steal the election.” As of this writing, the election has, emphatically, not been decided.

YouTube parent Google had earlier outlined potential violations in the lead up to the election, noting that it would:

Remov[e] content that contains hacked information, the disclosure of which may interfere with democratic processes, such as elections and censuses. For example, videos that contain hacked information about a political candidate shared with the intent to interfere in an election. Removing content encouraging others to interfere with democratic processes, such as obstructing or interrupting voting procedures. For example, telling viewers to create long voting lines with the purpose of making it harder for others to vote.

After outreach, the company told the press that the video is not in violation of its Community guidelines, but added that it has pulled ads from the content.

“Our Community Guidelines prohibit content misleading viewers about voting, for example content aiming to mislead voters about the time, place, means or eligibility requirements for voting, or false claims that could materially discourage voting,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The content of this video doesn’t rise to that level. All search results and videos about this election — including this video — surface an information panel noting that election results may not be final and we are continuing to raise up authoritative content in search results and recommendations. Additionally, we remove ads from videos that contain content that is demonstrably false about election results, like this video. We will continue to be vigilant in the post-election period.”

The video now also sports a “U.S. Elections” module below that notes, “Results may not be final. See the latest on Google,” directing users to a search page. In a separate post, it notes that it, “aim[s] to surface videos from experts, like public health institutions, in search results,” meaning that a video such as the one referenced above would theoretically be deprioritized in search under more authoritative outlets, including, CNN, Fox News, Jovem Pan, India Today and The Guardian.

The coming weeks and months will no doubt provide ample opportunity to assess these responses from these platforms and whether their responses ultimately did enough to address misinformation and disinformation during a particularly uncertain time in U.S. electoral history.

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Portland, Maine passes referendum banning facial surveillance

As we’re currently shifting through all of the national and local votes from last night’s elections, here’s a small but important victory for privacy advocates out of Portland, Maine . Per the Bangor Daily News, the city passed “Referendum Question B,” designed to curb government and police use of facial recognition technology.

According to the initiative:

An Act to Ban Facial Surveillance by Public Officials in Portland will ban the city of Portland and its departments and officials from using or authorizing the use of any facial surveillance software on any groups or member of the public, and provides a right to members of the public to sue if facial surveillance data is illegally gathered and/or used.

It’s one of four progressive measures that passed last night in the city. Other successful measures include a $15/hour minimum wage and a cap on rent increases. It also joins other recent local ordinances. Other cities to pass similar legislation include San Francisco, Boston and the other Portland, which offered a pretty sweeping ban back in September.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, an arrest was made in Washington, DC using facial recognition. The individual was reportedly identified using an image found on Twitter.

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A QAnon supporter is headed to Congress

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s win in a Georgia House race means that QAnon is headed to Capitol Hill.

Greene openly supports the complex, outlandish conspiracy theory, which posits that President Trump is waging a secret war against a shadowy group of elites who engage in child sex trafficking, among other far-fetched claims. The FBI identified QAnon as a potential inspiration for “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” last year.

Greene’s win is a startling moment of legitimacy for the dangerous conspiracy, though it wasn’t unexpected: her Democratic opponent dropped out of the race for personal reasons in September, clearing her path to the House seat.

Greene’s support for the constellation of conspiracy theories isn’t particularly quiet — nor are her other beliefs. Called a “future Republican star” by President Trump, Greene has been vocal in expressing racist and Islamophobic views. Greene has also espoused September 11 “truther” theories and criticized the use of masks, a scientifically-supported measure that reduces transmission of the novel coronavirus.

QAnon, once a belief only at the far-right fringes of the internet, has inspired followers to engage in real-world criminal acts, including fatally shooting a mob boss in Staten Island and blocking the Hoover Dam bridge in an armed standoff.

The conspiracy’s adherents have also hijacked the hashtag #savethechildren, interfering with legitimate child safety efforts and exporting their extreme ideas into mainstream conversation under the guise of helping children. Facebook, which previously banned QAnon, limited the hashtag’s reach last month in light of the phenomenon.

Other QAnon believers are on the ballot in 2020, including in Oregon, where Jo Rae Perkins is projected to lose her race against incumbent Senate Democrat Jeff Merkley. Perkins was very open about her beliefs and in June tweeted a video pledging her allegiance as a “digital soldier” for QAnon along with a popular hashtag associated with the conspiracy movement.

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‘Stay home’ robocalls on Election Day prompt warnings, investigation

A scourge of robocalls urging Americans to “stay safe and stay home” has gotten the attention of the FBI and the New York attorney general over concerns of voter suppression.

The brief message, which doesn’t specifically mention Election Day, has prompted New York Attorney General Letitia James to launch an investigation into the matter. James announced Tuesday that her office is actively investigating allegations that voters are receiving the robocalls.

“Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy,” James said in a statement Tuesday. “Attempts to hinder voters from exercising their right to cast their ballots are disheartening, disturbing and wrong.”

James added that such calls are illegal and will not be tolerated.

The FBI told TechCrunch that the agency is aware of reports of robocalls. The agency wouldn’t say if it is investigating the robocalls; however, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told reporters Tuesday that the FBI was investigating calls that seek to discourage people from voting, according to the AP.

“As a reminder, the FBI encourages the American public to verify any election and voting information they may receive through their local election officials,” the FBI said in a statement sent to TechCrunch.

The announcement from James follows subpoenas issued earlier this week by the New York AG office to investigate the source of these robocalls allegedly spreading disinformation. New York voters who receive concerning disinformation, or face issues at the polls, can contact her office’s Election Protection Hotline at 1-800-771-7755.

“Every voter must be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote without being harassed, coerced, or intimidated. Our nation has a legacy of free and fair elections, and this election will be no different,” James added. “Voters should rest assured that voting is safe and secure, and they should exercise their fundamental right to vote in confidence. We, along with state leaders across the nation, are working hard to protecting your right to vote, and anyone who tries to hinder that right will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that an interagency working group convened by Attorney General William P. Barr released a report to Congress on efforts to stop illegal robocalls. The report described efforts by the DOJ, including two civil actions filed in January 2020 against U.S.-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) companies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to combat illegal robocalls. Despite those efforts, and even evidence of some declines in robocalls for a time, the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a spike in calls. 

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