Social Media

"Hello, World!"

"It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting." - Tom Stoppard

Hello World, my name is Nathaniel! I’m an incoming graduate student at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program and a new project assistant here at NDItech.

For the past few years, I’ve been studying Arabic in Cairo and working with refugees from all around the Middle East and Africa. In Egypt, I was able to see how the proliferation of internet access, smartphones, and cloud-based applications empowered refugees and Egyptians alike to organize, pool resources, and tell the world what they see on a daily basis.

I’m interested in how technological innovations can help ordinary citizens monitor elections and document human rights violations to ensure accountability and good governance. I’m very excited to see the work that NDItech is doing and even more excited to be a part of it.

This is my first week and I’m extremely impressed with my team and the organization as a whole, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some of the cool apps and tools that NDItech is developing. Stay tuned for updates!

Strengthening Political Participation and Constituent Relations in Colombia

Ciudadanía y Congresistas Platform

Since 2000, NDI has worked with a broad range of political parties in Colombia to develop effective communication strategies that leverage new technologies to improve congressional-constituent relations. The recent launch of the Ciudadanía y Congresistas (aka Citizen and Legislators) platform is the latest example of such a project, which leveraged our Issues DemTool to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their members of congress.

As a refresher, the Issues DemTool is one of four, open source, online platforms that makes up the Democracy Toolkit, a suite of tools launched by our team last August to address the most common challenges faced by NDI partners: organizing contacts, connecting government with constituents, managing election data, and fostering civic debate. Each DemTool was designed to be easy-to-use and inexpensively deployed to support civic activists, political party officials, election observers, candidates for elected office, and members of parliament worldwide. READ MORE »

Social Media Insights on Crime and Violence in Latin America & the Caribbean

Social media analytics on crime and violence in Honduras

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Victor Hugo Salcedo, Senior Program Assistant on NDI's Latin America and the Caribbean team.

The words “crime” and “violence” go seemingly together when talking about the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala). The words “data” and “hackathon” go together when discussing technical innovation, intricate computer applications, and groups of hackers writing computer code to create the next billion-dollar application. Rarely these four words merge together on the same plane, but when they do, opportunities abound for conversations that have lots to do with innovation and more to do with citizen security and social development. I had the opportunity to take part in such conversations last week during the USAID-organized hackathon focusing on security levels in Central America and the Caribbean.

The event brought together data scientists, programmers, designers, and Latin America experts to find innovative ways to look at crime and homicide rates in the region, and try to find a solution to some of the causes of these maladies. But, what is a hackathon you ask? A hackathon is an event that brings together a group of people to find solutions to an specific problem. My group did just that with our main task: to analyze the extent to which social media analytics can be used as a public opinion tool by academics, civil society, and local governments to assess perception of violence in Honduras. READ MORE »

ElecTech Abidjan - Talking Tech and Elections in Cote d'Ivoire

Working group discussions of Ivorian electoral challenges.

Cote d’Ivoire has an election coming up this fall. The last one didn’t go so well. As such, there is a lot of focus on - and anxiety about - the months ahead from the international community.

Last month, NDI and our partners from the Platform of Civil Society Organizations for the Observation of Elections in Cote d’Ivoire (POECI, as they are known to their friends) hosted a conference pulling together all the key players in the upcoming election: leaders from political parties, technologists, civil society, the election commission, journalism and academia. NDI has done a number of these gatherings in the past convening folks at the intersection of technology and electoral politics - we call them ElecTechs.

There was a lot of interest in the topic from the geeky political world and we ended up with quite a full house, with over 60 people in the room; POECI needed to turn away gatecrashers. Core to this whole conference (and probably all my future posts about Cote d’Ivoire) was the work by Akendewa, an Ivorian technology hub and POECI member. Akendewa is awesome; they’re a remarkable group with impressive capabilities and enthusiastic members. You’ll be hearing more about them in my next post. READ MORE »

The Floor is Yours: A Q&A about Bosnia's New Issues Platform

We sat down (via Google Hangouts) with NDI’s Asja Kratovic, Resident Program Officer in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), to discuss the recently released Imate Rijec website. Based on the Issues DemTool, the site brings together the voices of politicians and citizens on some of Bosnia’s most pressing social and political issues. Check out our Q&A with Asja below:

Q: What is Imate Rijec and how was the idea for the site first born?

A: Our inspiration for the site came from a desire to create an open space for two-way, direct communications between citizens and politicians in real time. That type of space is what Imate Rijec (which means “The Floor is Yours”) provides. Featuring video responses from more than 20 different politicians from nine political parties, as well as videos from citizens in three of the largest cities in Bosnia, the platform highlights the stances and positions of a wide variety of people on a series of relevant and popular political issues.

Other teams around NDI have pursued sites like this before, including the team in Belarus with their ePramova.org project. After speaking to the Belarusian team about their platform, we decided to move forward with a regional nonprofit called Dokukino to customize and develop NDItech’s The Issues DemTool to fit our needs.

READ MORE »

Leadership in the Digital Economy - 20 MPs from around the world hit DC and Silicon Valley

Zambia Elections: Using Facebook for Targeted Messages

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke (@brondyke) from NDI’s Elections team.

Presenting the analysis of election day observation to the right audience is a critical component of citizen monitoring organizations’ outreach strategies, and one of which NDI has provided technical assistance to partners on for decades. In some countries where NDI works, Facebook has become synonymous with the Internet, and the use of Facebook for election day outreach has become an increasingly useful tool for communicating with certain audiences.

During January’s snap presidential election in Zambia, the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) was able to combine Facebook-optimized infographics that showed the findings of their PVT with targeted advertising campaigns to broaden their organization’s digital footprint in a very narrow timeframe.

Facebook estimates that there are roughly 900 thousand users in Zambia (for reference, there are about 4.2 million in Kenya and around 900 thousand in Zimbabwe) so the potential audience was limited, but is disproportionately under thirty five years old (76%). This is a critical demographic for communicating competitive election information. By contrast, two of the three largest newspapers have print circulations of 29,000 and 25,000, while the largest is estimated at 40,000, according to EISA.

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Viral Messaging in Nigeria

Supporter holding a #VoteNotFight sign

Nigerian non-profit Vote Not Fight has a compelling mission and a persuasive message. Their work: to empower youth to participate in Nigeria's elections and eschew election violence. Nigeria has a huge youth bulge who are disproportionately unemployed, and they are often the focus of groups looking to stir election violence for partisan political gains. READ MORE »

The Influence of Social Media and New Technologies in Afghanistan

Panelists, Tech Rising Event (USIP)

Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog post by Katherine Bradbury, Project Assistant on NDI's Asia team.

In March 2002, NDI established an office in Afghanistan and has since worked to promote the participation of civic groups, political parties, women, and government bodies in the country’s political and electoral processes. This process has taken place in the context of a difficult transition from Taliban rule to new democratic institutions. While political organizations and civil society groups have made progress in advancing democratic political processes, much more needs to be done to protect gains Afghanistan has made in democratic governance, political pluralism, and the protection of human rights, especially the rights of women. Security, political stability, and democratic governance are closely linked, and the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government hinges on credible elections. The recent 2014 presidential and provincial elections presented an opportunity to promote fair and peaceful competition for political power, and sustain the progress that has been made to-date in Afghanistan. READ MORE »

Discussing The Issues: ePramova in Belarus

ePramova Candidate Videos

 

Based on the Issues DemTool developed by NDI, ePramova is an online video platform launched earlier this year in Belarus aimed at fostering questions, answers, and public discussion on important political issues.  We chatted with Michael Murphy, Belarus Director, and Juri Jurkevits, Program Officer responsible for working with ePramova, about their observations of the platform so far. We’ve synthesized their thoughts into a short Q&A writeup below. If you have further questions about ePramova itself or the Issues DemTool platform more generally, contact us at ict@ndi.org.

 

Q: How was the platform introduced, and how was it accepted?

READ MORE »

PeaceTech Summit at USIP

Sheldon Himelfarb introduces the new PeaceTech Lab at USIP.

I had the opportunity to attended the United States Institute of Peace’s Engineering Durable Peace Summit last week (#peacetech), an event hosted at USIP as part of their launch of the new PeaceTech Lab. Attended by individuals ranging from mechanical and software engineers to young entrepreneurs, journalists, and tech4dem folk like us, the summit hosted several dynamic panel discussions and a morning filled with quick-hitting “lightning” presentations on some of the most exciting innovations in the PeaceTech space. READ MORE »

DemTools Launch - Our Storify

Citizen Participation and Technology: A Look at the Social Media Landscape in Nigeria

The Social Media Landscape in Nigeria, AfricaPractice (2014)

Since Nigeria's transition from military to civilian rule, NDI has worked closely with civic and political organizations to support the development of the country's newly formed democratic institutions. Although the quality of elections in Nigeria progressively declined post-1999, the 2011 elections marked a turning point, as they were seen to be the most credible elections the country had ever held. Now, with the 2015 elections fast approaching, identifying how to build on this momentum is on the minds of many.

Given the rapid rise in the use of digital technology and the way that it’s changing the relationship between governments and those being governed, part of the answer may lie in expanding political participation using social media. Our team here at NDI just published an important new study this May on Citizen Participation and Technology, which showed that while more people are using technology around the world, the quality of their political participation and the overall impact on democratization varies from country to country.

An interesting publication released this April by AfricaPractice takes a look at the case of Nigeria and how the country’s evolving digital media landscape is having an impact on citizen participation in politics. READ MORE »

NDI Study: Participation & Technology

Mobile Phones Users in Senegal.

We’ve recently released a study that examines the role digital technologies play in increasing citizen participation and fostering accountability in government through our programs. Along with many in the #tech4dem community, we’ve known that better insights are needed into the relationship between new technologies, citizen participation programs and the outcomes they aim to achieve.

The study provides an overview of NDI’s approach to citizen participation, and examines how the integration of technologies affects programs. To further publicize these findings we’re convening a panel of experts to discuss key findings from the study on how technology is affecting citizen participation in emerging democracies.

The study uses case studies from countries such as Burma, Mexico and Uganda to explore how the use of technology in citizen participation programs amplifies citizen voices and increases government responsiveness and accountability, and whether the use of digital technology increases the political clout of citizens.

As we’re all very busy people, and may not get the time to pour through a 65 page tome (or flick through an ePUB), we’d like to highlight some of the key findings on this blog. We welcome thoughts and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

READ MORE »

Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.09.24 AM.png

Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”

Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.

  1. SMS

On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.

Pitfalls in Tolerance: An Analysis of Twitter Data for Electoral Predictions

How-to-Follow-the-2012-US-Presidential-Elections-on-Twitter.jpg

As we all know, Twitter is a platform for creating and sharing short bursts of information instantly and without borders. Scholars have taken note and analyze Twitter data to “take the pulse” of society. Since 2010 a number of studies have tried to assess the viability of Twitter as a substitute for traditional electoral prediction methods. They have ranged from theoretical works to data analysis. These studies have been inspired by the lure of access to real-time information and the ease of collecting this data.

In recent study, Daniel Gayo-Avello of the University of Oviedo in Spain examined a number of previous attempts at predicting elections using Twitter data. The author conducted a meta analysis of fifteen prior studies to analyse whether Twitter data can be used to predict election results. He found that the 'presumed predictive power regarding electoral prediction has been somewhat exaggerated: although social media may provide a glimpse on electoral outcomes current research does not provide strong evidence to support it can currently replace traditional polls." READ MORE »

Why China's Internet Outage is a Big Deal

Last week, many of China’s major websites were inaccessible for nearly 24 hours to Chinese internet users. Chinese users trying to reach a range of websites ending in .com were re-routed instead to an IP address owned by Dynamic Internet Technology, which is the provider of the circumvention tool Freegate. DIT has been closely affiliated with the Falun Gong, a religious organization banned in China.

GreatFire.org, which examines Chinese censorship, has a detailed report investigating this outage, illuminating that all attempts within China to visit popular websites such as Sina Weibo, Baidu, etc. would be incorrectly re-routed to 65.49.2.178 (an IP address in Wyoming).

While state news agency Xinhua raised the possibility of hacking, and CNNIC attributed the breakdown to a "root server for top-level domain names", others blame the breakdown on a failure of the Great Firewall. As Chinese internet censorship expert Xiao Qiang states to Reuters, "It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks (in China). But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior."

Proper implementation of a DNS to match the domain name and the IP address of a website or web service is critical to ensuring that the Internet functions properly. As GreatFire points out, DNS poisoning, or hijacking of DNS routing to send a visitor to an incorrect domain name or IP address, is a technique deployed by the Great Firewall to render ‘blacklist’ websites inaccessible. READ MORE »

The Changing Game of Falcon and Mouse

Weixin's logo
It is fascinating to see how the role of social media in political dissent is changing in front of our very eyes, this time in China. Sina Weibo, the wildly popular microblogging platform used by dissidents and activists, might be supplanted by other platforms like Weixin, a more private chat application that now has 270 million active users and is growing rapidly.  Weibo, used by influential activists who have large reach to millions of others is also heavily censored and has been reported to have lost users.
 
Weibo has more than 600 million users, amounting to an astonishing 30% utilization by Internet users in China. There are more than 100 million messages posted on Weibo every day, making the platform a fertile ground for commentary on all matters. As a colleague on our Asia team recently said: "Online social media has given us the largest depository of unsolicited public opinion in human history. Now a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (not an unbiased outfit as it's backed by the Chinese government) reports that Weibo's user base is decreasing.
 
The report suggests that users are migrating to Weixin instead. Weixin is owned by Tencent Holdings, which, similar to Sino Weibo, also has close ties to the government.  According to CNNIC, Weibo users dropped by 9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, Weixin or WeChat as it is known outside of China, added 64.4 million new users last year, especially among the younger demographics.
 
One reason for the shift may be the changing Chinese consumer behavior that is increasingly migrating from PCs to social networks optimized for smartphones, particularly among young people.  Weixin saw a 1,201% increase in usage among youth in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Under the brand WeChat, the app is also far more global with a userbase of 100 million outside of China.

Online Organizing Platforms

@SenWarren opens #RootsCamp13

Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc.  As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.

Campaign Management

NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.

NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »

Have you Heard? China's Crackdown on Online "Rumors"

China leads the way when it comes to controlling online content. A push to counteract messaging that differs from “official” interpretation of events has spurred a wave of crackdowns that started in August, publically justified by the government as preventing the spread of online "rumors”.

Authorities have escalated their campaign against "cybercrime,” designed to prevent “hearsay” and “gossip” from spreading rapidly online, culminating in the arrests of hundreds of activists.

Prominent activist Murong Xuecun in a NYT op-ed stated that, “the vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep us down. But posts race through Weibo so quickly that it’s difficult to control them with technology. Hence, the government is resorting to detainment.”

Chinese authorities utilize a number of methods for exorcising “bad” speech in its online communities. For over a decade, the government has been employing a task force to publish regime-friendly comments online in an effort to manipulate public opinion.  This force has become known as the 50 Cent Army, which pays homage to the rumored 50 cents of Renminbi paid per comment (though in a rare moment of transparency, the government budgets have listed “Internet opinion analysts” as official occupations, most notable at the China Employment Training Technical Instruction Center). In 2012, real name registration came into effect -- requiring web users to register their given name and national identification name with provider sites before posting comments.

The “campaign against cybercrime” has reached new heights in targeting those “perpetrate rumours” in China’s online communities. This provision has paved the way for mass arrests of outspoken netizens across the country, including the Big V’s-- microbloggers known for online activism. An August 24th editorial stated that popular bloggers who “poison the online environment” should be “dealt with like rats scurrying across the street that everyone wants to kill.”

Arrests have also spread amongst China’s Uighur population.  July and August were marked by a government movement against “religious extremist content on the internet” in the Xinjiang province.  Fearing a militant, religious uprising, police arrested 139 people for spreading “jihadist” sentiments and posting religious content online, according to state-run media.

READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context  - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies. 

The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »

EMOTIVE, "Mapping the Mood of a Nation"

EMOTIVE NLP Pipeline for Sparse Text Processing

It goes almost without saying that Twitter has changed the landscape of how people express and exchange their opinions online.  Currently Twitter is host to 554.75 million users with an average of 135,000 new users signing up for the service every day. It is estimated that there are 9,000 new tweets every second. What is more, Twitter users have broken the news on events before the mainstream media.  The Boston Marathon explosions, key events during the Arab Spring, and the London G20 riots as well as numerous earthquakes and other natural distasters were events where real-time updates were found on Twitter before anywhere else.  

Based on this, Researchers at Loughborough University in London have developed a new system for “Extracting the Meaning Of Tears Information in a Visualization of Emotion” aptly adapted into the acronym EMOTIVE. The academics working on this project say this new program can analyze up to 2,000 tweets a second to serve as a map of real-time public sentiment. READ MORE »

Taking the "Social" and "Media" out of "Social Media"

Image courtesy of NamViet News

Early this summer, the Wall Street Journal published a widely-circulated article on the increasing restrictions to free speech online. South East Asia continues to be a region where internet freedom is under threat.

The most notable case is in Vietnam, where the draconian Decree 72 has been implemented. (More details on other restrictions in Vietnam can be found here). According to the decree, “[A] personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network. This page should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information.” This law has severe implications for any journalists, academics, and others who seek to share work accomplished by others. In addition, the decree requires all foreign websites to include at least one server in Vietnam, so that the data stored on those servers can be accessed by local authorities. READ MORE »

ElecTech Afghanistan: Increasing Transparency and Participation

MTN welcomes visitors to Kabul International Airport

I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.

Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.

Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.

From Broadcast to Mobile and Social READ MORE »

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