New research is shedding light on why certain people are more susceptible to disinformation and what motivates individuals to choose to join hate campaigns. Photo credit: Dave Haygarth
Disinformation is one of the thorniest problems facing citizens online around the world today. Recent reports have highlighted that the problem is not only present, but indeed it is becoming more grave in the absence of proper solutions to combat it. While considerable thought and research have been dedicated to technological solutions, efforts at understanding the human mechanics of disinformation are still nascent. Exploring what demographics are most vulnerable or most likely to be targeted, why they are receptive to disinformation, and the mechanics of how disinformation spreads within their networks online and offline is key to finding effective solutions in the long term.
Grassroots party building participant distributes door-to-door questionnaires in Ștefan Vodă, Moldova
Around the world, public opinion polling reveals ever increasing levels of citizen distrust in traditional political parties. This distrust — coupled with fragile party connections with citizens — has increasingly resulted in losses in electoral support to populist forces and social movements that appear to be more responsive to citizens’ concerns. However, government’s ability to meet citizens’ expectations and deliver public goods relies heavily on political parties’ capacity to propose and implement quality, citizen-informed policies. To address these realities, NDI assists political parties to strengthen relationships with citizens, respond to their needs, deliver on campaign promises and improve public welfare. NDI recently concluded research to capture successes and lessons learned in policy development programs across the Institute. Based on this research, here’s some of what we’ve learned:
In recent weeks, Slovakia has experienced massive protests at a scale unseen since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. The protests have been organized throughout the country by young people in their early 20s, many of whom haven’t been engaged politically before. In fact, many of the youth now protesting were born into democracy and barely remember the fight against the authoritarian regime of the late 90s, let alone life under the Soviet-aligned government that came before it. The protests we are currently witnessing, initially fueled by the unprecedented murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, have already resulted in the resignation of the minister of interior and, later, of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet. While the protests triggered the resignations, civic unrest toward Fico’s cabinet already existed due to accusations of corruption and alleged mafia ties to political elites. However, Slovaks are now demanding Za slusne Slovensko – “Decency in Slovakia” – which means politics clean of corruption, mafia connections and attacks on journalists.
The Election Observation Group (ELOG) in Kenya used a unique data entry tool to match observer-captured images to official election documents
The August 2017 presidential election in Kenya was clouded by accusations of fraud and doubts about the accuracy of results posted on the Independent Elections and Boundary Committee (IEBC) website. Some groups alleged that information from the official polling-station-level presidential results forms (Form 34A) posted on the website may have been altered during the transmission of the forms from polling stations to the national level. The Kenyan Supreme Court’s ultimately annulled the August elections and called for a fresh presidential contest in October 2017. To promote accountability and transparency, NDI provided technical assistance to the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) to deploy 766 observers to polling stations across the country to systematically observe the fresh elections. Election observers were also instructed to take pictures of the completed Form 34As at their polling stations and send the images to the organization through designated WhatsApp numbers to verify the credibility of the data. Five-hundred and forty observers submitted clear photos of the Form 34As from the polling stations. With technical support from NDI, ELOG developed an online system to compare these forms with their official online counterpart.
Rachel Pipan, Allison Price, Tomicah Tilleman and Chris Doten (far right) in on-stage selfie right before their South by Southwest panel “Trust Crisis: The Need for Blockchain.”
Don’t get lost in the technobabble – blockchain is a confusing technology with a simple purpose: enabling groups that don’t trust each other to trade things or validate information without an all-powerful middleman. In a world where trust in institutions, including government, is declining, blockchain provides a useful way to create new systems to empower groups to work together and define what truth is. The blockchain is not synonymous with cryptocurrency, but it is related to cryptocurrency in the same way that the first application of the internet was email.
Representatives of Ivorian and international institutions, embassies, political parties and civil society join NDI’s cross-party exchange to discuss key actions that could be taken to address and mitigate violence against women in political parties.
In Côte d’Ivoire, as we have found in many other places around the world, violence against women in politics has long been hidden, unknown, unrecognized, ignored or considered part of the "normal" practice of politics or as the "cost of politics." This is true for women across political sectors, including as voters, candidates, activists and elected or appointed officials. While political parties in Côte d’Ivoire serve as critical pathways for women’s political participation and engagement, including for young or new politicians, they continue to be male-dominated institutions, which allows and enables violence against women in their ranks. Because women believe that speaking out will at best have no real impact, and at worst make their situations worse, the violence women face within political parties has also gone largely unreported.
Long before the issue of Russian disinformation became the subject of headlines in the U.S., NDI worked with partners to understand and counter efforts to manipulate information. NDI has continued to expand its in-house capacity and its external partnerships in this area through an initiative we've called INFO/tegrity, which focuses on efforts to detect, analyze, and combat disinformation online.
The author on Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia struggling to hear a call about logistics from fellow NDI staff while running other Election Day errands (photo credit: Madeline Wilson)
Two former presidents and a former foreign minister sat in a conference room while I searched for a hat. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it was the very real start to December 25, 2017, the eve of the Liberian presidential runoff.
As a young lawmaker in the Missouri state legislature, Senator Claire McCaskill once sought advice from a senior member about how to get a piece of legislation out of committee. He responded by asking if she had “brought her knee pads.”
In the wake of the revelations about predatory attacks on women in Hollywood, in newsrooms and in the halls of legislatures, women around the world have been stepping forward to provide #MeToo testimonies about their experience of sexual harassment.
In the first week of December 2017, I had the chance to meet Debby Linares, a transgender woman and human rights activist from Guatemala, who soon became an inspiration to me on a personal level. Debby, who has been a human rights activist for the past 16 years, advocates for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights at the municipal and state level in Guatemala.