from the this-is-bad-reporting dept
Vice News has some really great reporters on tech issues who work for its Motherboard publication. For reasons that don’t make sense, last week they had some other reporter write an absolutely ridiculously bad story trying to argue that the “stop the steal” idiots were helped along by the amazingly important work done by folks in the famed “Voting Village” at the DEFCON conference. The full article is long and bad and has the ridiculous and misleading title: How an “Ethical” Hacker Convention Is Fueling Trump’s Big Lie. But the very premise of this story is not just wrong, but dangerously stupid. It’s shameful that anyone at Vice thought this was an appropriate story to publish.
The facts are this: there have been quite reasonable concerns about the security and technology in certain electronic voting machines going back decades. In fact, Techdirt covered tons of these stories, which were often about problems with the security in early machines, the lack of paper trails for the votes, and (perhaps most importantly) the unwillingness of the voting machine companies to work transparently with actual security researchers who could help harden those machines. Voting Village was set up in DEFCON as a response to that, in which these ethical hackers would get their hands on voting machines, seek out the vulnerabilities in order to help harden the security and improve these machines. It’s how cybersecurity has always worked.
And while it is true that some of the Stop the Steal grifters have tried to take some of the headlines or presentations from DEFCON and pretend that they prove that the 2020 election was hacked or broken or whatnot, that’s got nothing to do with Voting Village “helping” them. If it weren’t for Voting Village, those same grifters would have found other reports and other news stories to misinterpret and to make their unsubstantiated claims.
The simple fact is that just because security researchers have concerns about some voting machines, and have worked to highlight where security vulnerabilities might be, that does not mean that an election is easily hacked, or that any election was actually hacked. That’s the kind of thing that the “stop the steal” grifters have never been able to show and all of the evidence to date has failed to substantiate.
Paragraphs like this are utter nonsense:
And then there is DEFCON. The experts here agree that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and many have worked hard to debunk those conspiracy theories. But with its sensationalist rhetoric, flashy theatrics, unstructured hacking, and lack of context about how elections operate, DEFCON also emphasizes the vulnerabilities that are possible, even when they?re not necessarily probable. As a result, the event serves as easy fodder for dis- and malinformation, showing how even well-intentioned experts are being used to prop up the Big Lie.
Yeah, it emphasizes vulnerabilities are possible because of course they’re possible. That’s just being factual and accurate. And, on top of that, the way to minimize those vulnerabilities and to better protect elections is to allow security researchers to find those vulnerabilities, report them, and seek better ways of protecting voting. And that’s exactly what Voting Village does. Arguing that they should somehow be blamed because idiots are misrepresenting their work, as if the work was the problem is so disingenuous to be effectively disinformation.
Or as security researchers Rob Graham rightly notes:
1/ Buckle up kids, time for me to dunk on this story.
Suppressing the truth because it hurts the cause is never the right answer. It's the reason that truth is suppressed by the corrupt.https://t.co/AEjMAT1KY9
— Rob??? Graham (@ErrataRob) January 11, 2022
As he notes later in the thread, “pretty much all government transparency information is at some point misrepresented by conspiracy theorists” but that’s no excuse to say we should have less transparency.
Others, like Kim Zetter — one of the best cybersecurity reporters ever — point out that the reporter’s main sources for the article appear to be people close to voting tech companies and election officials, which are the two groups of people who are most frequently embarrassed by the security research that comes out of Voting Village. In other words, this was a hit piece, put in place by folks who have long wanted to destroy Voting Village. In fact, Zetter highlights that one of the main sources quoted in the article has complained about Voting Village for years, which seems like extremely relevant context that was left out of the article.
I?m disappointed in Vice for publishing. He quotes David Becker, whose org works with election officials, and Michelle Shafer, a former spokes for voting machine vendors, but doesn?t speak with Matt Blaze or Alex Halderman. And he implies that Harri was a consultant for Lindell.
— Kim Zetter (@KimZetter) January 11, 2022
Others noted that many of the actual experts in this space — names which have been mentioned on Techdirt frequently, like Alex Halderman and Matt Blaze — are not quoted in the article at all. The author claimed that while he spoke to many such experts he didn’t have room to include their quotes. Maggie MacAlpine, a Voting Village organizer notes that neither she nor any of her colleagues were quoted, and the article is full of “unattributed, and factually incorrect statements.”
Hi I'm a Voting Village organizer and I "enjoyed" the part of this article where none of my colleagues were quoted, the quotes used were unattributed, and factually incorrect statements littered the piece. This is poorly researched to the point of being misinformation itself.
— Maggie MacAlpine (@MaggieMacAlpine) January 11, 2022
Matt Blaze — again, one of the foremost experts on election security issues — summed up the nonsense premise of the article perfectly:
I'm not going to give more O2 to that dreadful voting article that came out the other day. But I will say that "don't find things out or tell other people about them because bad people might misinterpret them out of context" is a weird premise for a journalist to start from.
— matt blaze (@mattblaze) January 13, 2022
He later notes three important facts about the complicated world of computer security:
- There’s been great progress securing US election infrastructure.
- There are still serious vulnerabilities and much work is left to be done.
- Yet there’s no evidence technical attacks have altered election outcomes.
And the only reason the first bullet point is as true as it is, is because of the work of the security researchers like those who populate Voting Village every year at DEFCON. The only reason more work is progressing on the second point is because of the same thing. And articles like this one in Vice make that much, much more difficult.
Do better, Vice.