In the wake of seemingly positive news for both Sierra Leone and Blockchain, where it was alleged that the technology formed part of an election process, it later emerged that there was some misinformation.
Agora, the company that was at the heart of the miscommunication, was called out for proclaiming that they ran part of the African Nation’s election on the Blockchain, when in reality, they were merely showing how Blockchain elections could be done, running it concurrently as a demonstration to the government.
A media storm developed as Agora was caught in the crosshairs. However, they came out with a statement intending to vindicate themselves from any wrong. Agora pointed to the fact they were simply an international observer, underlining that they never claimed to be counting official election results in their trial Blockchain election test.
The fall out of it all did not paint Agora in a positive light. But, along with a statement they sent out, their CEO, Leo Gammar told Cointelegraph that they had gone on to assure the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Sierra Leone they are sorry for what transpired. The company also admitted to Cointelegraph that this incident has provided them with a steep learning curve.
What happened, or didn’t happen?
On March 7, Sierra Leone allegedly employed Blockchain technology in tallying its presidential elections, according to Agora’s CEO Leo Gammar.
Jason Lukasiewicz, the COO of Agora spoke to Cointelegraph, stating directly that this is the “first time in history a Blockchain has been used in any government election, ever.”
Gammar followed up with a message sent to Agora’s Telegram group stating that the Agora team is “engaged in Sierra Leone presidential elections,”
Agora then boasted on the Telegram group that their Blockchain voting technology was working successfully and that they were ahead of the official commission.
— Agora (@AgoraBlockchain) March 15, 2018
— Agora (@AgoraBlockchain) March 13, 2018
Agora sent out a lot of press and was reported on some of them. However, the ambiguous nature of these statements pointed readers in the direction of believing Blockchain technology was being used to tally election results in a real-world application.
Not so fast
It led to the National Electoral Commission coming out to clear the air. The NEC officially denied any use of Blockchain to tally election.
— National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (@NECsalone) March 19, 2018
Speaking with Cointelegraph, CEO of Agora, Leo Gammar admitted that there was a bout of miscommunication and a few PR mistakes made on their behalf. However, they feel that they are still well placed to help a country like Sierra Leone bring transparency to the electoral process as the NEC is still interested in potentially pursuing Blockchain in the future.
“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. We now know we have to up our PR game, and sort out our media savvy – to which we have hired someone to help with that and, we have to approach the election side of things with a lot less passion and excitement and rather present the facts and the possibilities.”
No damage done
Despite taking a knock in terms of bad press for the miscommunication that unfolded, it appears that the good of this demonstration to the government did not get tarnished. Gammar says that there is still keen interest from the NEC to see more of what Blockchain is capable of.
“We have a very good relationship with the NEC, I spent a lot of time in their offices and they have a very entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to Blockchain; they are keen to understand it more,” Gammar said.
“When I arrived there, they did not understand what Blockchain was, but they are well educated on digital electoral counting, and knew the dangers that happened in Norway when there were threats of Russian hackers. But, they like the sound of Blockchain and the transparency it can bring.”
“By-elections are coming up in a few weeks time and I will be going back to Sierra Leone to see how we can further demonstrate and develop the Blockchain voting potential. They are still keen to see what can be done despite this media storm.”
It would appear that while Agora was at fault in terms of their overeagerness to get the news out, which led to miscommunication and misunderstanding, the aftermath of it has not done too much damage to the potential of the technology to make a case in this real-world setting.
Blockchain elections have long been thought of as a potential to solve a lot of woes that citizens of corrupt countries face. Agora was given a shot at showcasing this potential but almost scuppered it in what has been the closest that Blockchain has come to being involved in real-world elections. Their excitement and hype at the successful demonstration overshadowed their commitment to reporting on it accurately and had it gone another way, this could have set a bad precedent for future Blockchain voting experiments.
The power of the media
Blockchain companies, despite being at the forefront of a new wave of technology, have a lot to learn in terms of surviving the mainstream. Media attention and partners on the level of governments are factors that not many small startups have experience with.
Agora has shown that a few false steps, or a little overeagerness, can easily scupper a lot of good work, especially in a space that is brimming with potential. Agora’s reputation has surely taken a hit, in the technology space, but their apology has allegedly been accepted by their client, the NEC, according to Gammar, and the path is still set for further developments for Blockchain elections in Sierra Leone.
The stage was set for Agora to showcase Blockchain’s potential in voting and elections, in a real-world use case. However, they met a harsh backlash for mistakes they made in handling the situation.
Their overenthusiasm nearly cost them a shot at proving the technology and potentially setting a new precedent with the Sierra Leone NEC. If they are to be believed, and the NEC is still interested in seeing more of what they can offer, then one would say it is no harm done, except perhaps to Agora’s reputation.