Technology and Internet usage have skyrocketed in recent years, and the National Democratic Institute’s DemTech team has recognized the need for acquiring resources, and using new tools to better understand these ecosystems. To that end, NDI has been working to develop tools, methodologies, networks and guidance for online election monitoring, civic technology, and a host of other subjects relating to social media and information integrity. One of the tools we recently gained access to is CrowdTangle, a system owned by Facebook which enables the examination of content, interactions, trends and other data on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter. In the past year, NDI has been increasingly using CrowdTangle’s dashboard and export functions to expand its political analysis and understanding in key country contexts in a series of “Democracy Dashboards”.
For the case of Hong Kong, NDI’s Asia-Pacific team observed a shifting political landscape after the sudden promulgation of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020, which significantly limits fundamental freedoms and rights in Hong Kong such as freedom of speech and assembly, both in-person and online. Through the use of CrowdTangle, the Asia-Pacific team found that pro-Beijing pages produced more content and dominated the share of voice on social media than pro-democracy pages but had lower interaction rates. Furthermore, the rhetoric and language used by these two groups differed based on political leanings. For example, pro-Beijing pages referred to COVID-19 as “coronavirus” while pro-democracy pages called the virus “Wuhan pneumonia”.
In Kosovo, social media monitoring with CrowdTangle among other tools revealed the breadth of disinformation within the social media sphere. The team looked at disinformation content pertaining to conspiracy theories about COVID-19 but also relating to pseudo-medical cures for the virus. With this type of information in hand, NDI/Kosovo uses its media monitoring and analysis to help these actors begin shaping a strategy aimed at mitigating the detrimental effects of disinformation in the country.
Finally, in Moldova, CrowdTangle was used to observe possible disinformation and hate speech towards recently elected and pro-European Union President Maia Sandu. This research effort brought to light how popular Maia Sandu’s official account was, as it was consistently at the top of charts based on post engagement with pages of major politicians.
As seen in these three case studies, CrowdTangle is a versatile tool that has many use cases. It has helped identify social media ecosystems within specific countries and regions, and its overperforming function has allowed us to observe the type of posts that are trending in a variety of different settings. Keyword-driven saved searches offer a deep dive into content relating to topics such as elections, disinformation, and hate speech. Altogether, this has proved to be a very useful tool and our team hopes to bolster similar social monitoring projects in the future with election observers, civic technologists, and others in the broader democracy community.