To prevent high-tech meddling in US national elections of the future, Facebook plans to use a technology dating back to 1861 – the humble postcard.
The social media giant plans to use the cards, first patented in 1861 in Philadelphia, as a form of two-factor authentication to confirm that political ads served up through its network are not from Russia or any other party that might want to meddle with U.S. elections.
“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,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs.
U.S. lawmakers recently unsealed an indictment accusing three Russian companies and more than a dozen individuals of conducting “a criminal and espionage conspiracy using social media to interfere in the election by boosting Republican Donald Trump and denigrating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton,” Reuters reports.
The indictment says Russia created false online personas to push divisive political content, including ads, that would help get Trump into office.
Responding to criticism that social platforms were slow to react to Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook this week revealed plans to involve the U.S. post office to better validate the IDs of election ad buyers.
Starting now, advertisers that run ads mentioning a specific candidate to a federal office will receive a unique code by snail mail. Advertisers will have to relay the code back to Facebook to confirm they are in the U.S.
The requirement will not apply to issue-based political ads, Harbath said. Facebook believes this is the best way to prevent bad actors from posing as someone they are not.
This validation technique takes its cue from the modern two-factor authentication – 2FA for short – that forces people logging into a service to confirm on a separate device (mobile phone) or service (email) that they are indeed who they say they are.
It is also called “multi-factor authentication” when the user has to present two or more pieces of evidence to the authentication mechanism.
One question remains unanswered, however: what’s to stop an American party with certain political interests from communicating the code to someone overseas?