Facebooking To End Corruption?

3-D Scatterplot of CPI, Facebook Penetration %, and Polity IV Score

We know that corruption grows and spreads in areas where public accountability is low. The question is how can technology facilitate public accountability and better governance? Over the last few weeks I started collecting data on corruption and comparing it to various attributes of countries within a single year, 2012.

For a very preliminary look at the role of technology in influencing democracy I have examined how social networks, principally Facebook, influence the perception of corruption within countries. What I have found hints at something important in the Tech4Dem space. I developed a basic model based on the premise that societies with higher usage of social networks are inherently more engaged and therefore are more likely to have lower perceptions of corruption.   READ MORE »

Democracy's Fourth Wave: Digital Media and the Arab Spring. A Conversation with Phil Howard and Muzammil Hussain

Democracy's Fourth Wave Cover

NDI is pleased to welcome Philip Howard and Muzammil Hussain for a conversation on the role of digital media in the recent MENA revolutions.  Here is their talk today at NDI.

Howard and Hussain ask: Did digital media really "cause" the Arab Spring? Is digital media becoming fast "Democracy's Fourth Wave"?  In their research, Howard and Hussain found that an unlikely network of citizens used digital media to start a cascade of social protest that ultimately toppled four of the world's most entrenched dictators.  Drawing from an extensive data set, the two found that the complex causal recipe includes economic, political and cultural factors, but that digital media is consistently one of the most important sufficient and necessary conditions for explaining both the fragility of regimes and the success of social movements.  The new book by Howard and Hussein looks at not only the unexpected evolution of events during the Arab Spring, but the deeper history of creative digital activism throughout the region.

READ MORE »

New Technology and the Prevention of Violent Conflict

Prevention of Violent Conflict Report

In an era of rapidly increasing global interconnectivity, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have generated an unprecedented quantity of data. In 2012 alone, humans generated more data than over the course of their entire history. A report by the International Peace Institute, “New Technology and the Prevention of Violence and Conflict,” discusses the profound implications of new technologies and their potential for strengthening conflict prevention initiatives.

In line with the objectives of conflict prevention efforts, the report explores the contributions that cell phones, social media, crowdsourcing, crisis mapping, blogging, and big data analytics can make to short-term efforts to forestall crises and long-term initiatives to address root causes of violence. Through five case studies, the report examines how such tools can be leveraged in a variety of regions (Africa, Asia, and Latin America), types of violence (criminal violence, election-related violence, armed conflict, short-term crisis), and political contexts (restrictive and collaborative governments). The core question that guided the researchers of the project was, in the words of the authors: READ MORE »

Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World

#tech4dem

NDI's Governance and NDItech teams are co-convening, with illustrious partners (Omidyar, International IDEA, CDDRL at Stanford University, Google.org, and other) a conference in the next few days on how democratic institutions respond to and more effectively to a global citizenry that is empowered with technology in unprecedented ways. Democratic institutions  -- parliaments, parties, and governments -  are under pressure to perform more efficiently and effectively, to open their often opaque ways, to be more accountable to their citizens - in short, to govern better.  Around the world, established and emerging democracies are struggling to adapt to citizens who are mobilized with phones, tweets and Facebook pages. They are often slow to change and reluctant to give up old paradigms of power and access to (or withholding of) information. 

The conference "Governing Democratically in a Tech-Empowered World" comes at a critical and historical juncture. The Arab spring is largely behind us and the messy, and hard work of governing has just begun there. Parliaments are trying to figure out how to open their processes and become more responsive to citizen input while citizens are organizing, monitoring, and building alternative parties and movements. Governments are under pressure to open up all kinds of data with citizen groups scraping, API-ing and using and re-using governmental data to make it more usable and applicable to everyday citizens.

Those with vested power are learning that the gatekeeping functions such as access and control of and to information is no longer possible in a socia media and tech-empowered world.  At the same time, there is a contraction of civil liberties and freedom of expression online and tech is being used against democratization efforts. One participant describes this as a "cut and paste" movement of autocratic governments learning online from each other on how to surveil, restrict, and limit their citizenries with technology. 

One #tech4dem participant put the challenge well: "The game has changed. You can not find the existing reality, you have to come up with a new one."   

READ MORE »

Show Me Your Data: The Visual Web in the Kenyan Elections

A special guest post by Phil Brondyke from NDI’s Elections team.

In the past 18 months, images have re-become the hottest thing online. Pinterest has nearly 10 million unique visitors per month, becoming one of the top ten most trafficked social outlets at the end of 2011. In 2012, Facebook saw some serious value in the mobile photo filtering app Instagram, picking the company up for a cool $1 billion. And everyone has pretty maps. In short, beautiful pictures, infographics, and visual data on the web are hotter than ever. 

Enter the Kenyan 2013 presidential elections. The Elections Observation Group (ELOG), NDI's partner, increased its impact by plotting out a way to share the valuable and complex data collected from its massive election observers in a simple way online. 

ELOG used an advanced Election Day monitoring methodology, also called a parallel vote tabulation, and explained what that is with a GIF and videos.

In 2010 ELOG systematically monitored the Kenyan Constitutional Referendum by deploying observers to a random sample of polling stations across the country. The observers rapidly reported their data via SMS back to a central data center so ELOG could evaluate how the election was going in near real-time.

That effort was the trial run for what ELOG would do and collect on election day 2013 - a day much anticipated and worried about after the very violent election debacle in 2008. ELOG analyzed the data following the 2010 poll and created simple sharable infographics that could be uploaded to Facebook and Twitter. The goal of these graphics was to demonstrate that ELOG had--and would be collecting--valuable data and key analysis about the quality of the process.  The infographics were mainly targeting political parties and the election commission, but ended up also appealing to a keenly involved Kenyan political digerati. 

READ MORE »

#FutureNews - Techifying Parliamentary Communications

#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World

A new report published in the UK examines the role that technology plays in providing citizens access to information and events related to Parliament. The report: “#FutureNews - The Communications of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World,” provides an interesting look at a strategic approach of the UK to increasing the openness of White Hall.  It's long been evident that technology is diversifying the media through which citizens consume news and entertainment. It's also clear that it is incumbent upon governments to keep up with citizens to maintain transparency and accountability in democratic processes.  Using new technologies and media strategies, the report argues, Parliament must insert itself in to the public debate and add substantive value to the the political conversation. 

Following are key findings from the report and a brief discussion on how these takeaways are applicable in the developing world from an NDI Tech4Dem perspective.  READ MORE »

Innovation in Context

Innovation comes in many forms. And you sure hear it a lot.

Given my instinctive cringe whenever I hear the term "innovation" these days, the word may a wee bit overused. However, it the concept remains as important as ever - if organizations aren't trying new things, they're stagnating.

As a global organization working with partners in a lot of different country contexts, though, I sometimes have to check myself and remember that innovation lives in local contexts. NDI's supported scores of sophisticated election monitoring missions across the world using the Partial Vote Tabulation system, including most recently in Kenya. The methodology's a tried and true one - I'll write it up soon - and has been used for over a decade. From a global perspective, it ain't new.

In Tunisia, however, it's a massive step. (No, not this kind of step.)

Given their shiny new democracy and the fact they've only had one real fair election in generations, any form of election monitoring is new. Moving to one that requires thousands of citizens across the country to work in concert with an extraordinary degree of accuracy is a big deal. READ MORE »

Academic Perspectives on #Tech4Dem

International Studies Association Annual Convention 2013 Recap

Last week thousands of international studies scholars from around the world converged on San Francisco’s Hilton Union Square for the International Studies Association (ISA) annual convention to discuss issues ranging from national security and feminism to democracy and development. The week-long event featured dozens of panels on tech for democracy and development. Although I was only able to attend a few of the many panels on Tech and Democracy and Development, the ones I did attend were engaging.

One panel, “Theorizing Media Governance and Regulation in the Global Information Society,” highlighted trends in the development of legal and regulatory practices across countries and over time. This panel highlighed many of the issues currently being faced by democracy development organizations and activists on the ground. Three of the papers on the panel examined the spread of ICT rules and regulations across national borders. The process of legal and policy creep across borders can significantly affect Internet freedom and access in whole regions and impact the effectiveness of organizations to engage in development activities. READ MORE »

We're Hiring! Part-time Writer

in
Digital Writing

We're hunting a savvy and passionate student writer and thinker to blog for the NDItech team.

The position is over 3 months for between 10-20 hours per week, and you don't have to be based in DC. You'll write concise pieces that address hot topics in the technology and democracy arena, as well as highlighting tech-focused programs conducted by NDI. We also want you to have a hand in our social media outreach, and then measure your impact via analytics.

You need to...

  • Be a good, fast writer
  • Rock at creating content for the web
  • Have social media skills
  • Be passionate about the intersection of democracy and technology
  • Have experience with a content management system like Drupal
  • Be interested in tracking impact with analytics
  • Want to learn about tech in development

We're flexible on the hours you work, as long as you can create engaging content.

Think you fill the bill? Apply through http://www.ndi.org/current_openings -> Internships  -> Part Time Blogger/Writer Intern -> Information and Communication Technology. Also feel free to email cdoten@ndi.org. Have a blog post or two ready as an example.

Bridge Into an Uncensored Internet

Tor (incognito)

Elections and other political events can be a time in less transparent environments when there is increased internet monitoring and censorship. With notable elections coming up in the next few months, particularly in countries with a history of internet monitoring and filtering, utilizing circumvention technologies ahead of these events become extremely important. Circumvention technologies enable you to route your internet connection to an IP address outside of your country, allowing you to view otherwise filtered content. One of the best circumvention technologies is Tor

However, in countries such as Iran and China, known Tor IP addresses (or "relays") had been intermittently blocked in the past, making it unusable. Expanded use of capabilities such as Deep Packet Inspection have even made it possible for some regimes to determine if internet traffic is being routed through Tor.  READ MORE »

Tech-ifying Development: Perspectives on Opportunities and Problems

New Publication on Dev and Tech

We have been reading a new report from Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy “Diplomacy, Security and Development in the Information Age”. Edited by Shanthi Kalathil, the collection of papers relates directly to organizations using tech in international development activities. We are particularly impressed with Joseph Siegle’s article: “Managing Volatility with the Expanded Access to Information in Fragile States.” 

Siegle addresses a range of issues ranging from civic participation to the potential marginalization and radicalization of individuals in fragile states - all of interest to us. Siegle interestingly notes that information is a central aspect affecting the stability of fragile states. He finds explicitly that information and communications technologies can serve as both an opportunity and a threat to societies in such states. He notes that channels by which information is conveyed are essentially value neutral, and rightly illustrates that it information itself and the context are the critical factors to investigate. 

Siegle’s insight is important for all implementers of tech in development as they initiate projects around the world. Information can increase transparency and oversight if it is accurate and unbiased and contextulalized by actors experienced in political organizing. Similarly, platforms for open democracy can shine light on corruption and political abuse if advanced by groups (such as media or citizen organizations) with credibility. 

Among the tactics Siegle highlights is parallel vote counting. Siegle states: “Election monitoring groups are able to conduct parallel vote counts (Parallel Vote Tabulation, PVT) at each local polling station and report these results back to a central headquarters,enabling real-time projections that challenge dubious official results.” Much of the data collection and reporting of election data is done via SMS and sophisticated back-end parsing and analytical engines to ensure credible analysis by monitoring organizations.  NDI recently assisted in a PVT with our local partner ELOG in Kenya.  READ MORE »

Gone FinFishing

Gamma International

The minds at Citizen Lab are at it again: detailing how surveillance software developed by Gamma International is being implemented by countries around the world to target the work of pro-democracy groups

We preciously reviewed their report on Blue Coat, a U.S.-based company whose firewall and web filtering products have ended up in Syria, Burma, and other countries with a history of internet surveillance and censorship. READ MORE »

Smart SMS Parsing for Better Election Observation

Parsing Sequence

Kenya's election is over and was largely peaceful, even as there are ongoing court challenges. We @NDITech assisted the Kenyan civil society organization, ELOG, in it's election observation effort on Election day so had an inside view of this much-anticipated and closely-watched election. NDI specifically supported ELOG's data collection effort where observers gathered process and incident data at polling stations around the country as well as vote share data to verify the results publicized by Kenya's electoral commission, IEBC.  As the IEBC found out the hard way, it’s not easy to collect electronic data from tens of thousands of polling stations around the country.  ELOG’s observers were trained by master trainers to collect relevant data and then send coded text messages for processing to a central database.  READ MORE »

The People Are Calling: Interactive Voice Services for Citizen Participation

ILA Dhageyso, a project out of Somaliland uses IVR to facilitate citizen-government interaction.

So you want to increase citizen participation in government and civil society, but the tech infrastructure is poor and there are low literacy rates with many people living in rural areas who are hard to reach. What do you do to increase transparency and civic interaction between a government and citizens? Poor tech infrastructure, rural populations, and low literacy rates are commong barriers to using tech in many countries where we work. Integrated Voice Response (IVR) provides a mechanism for civic interaction that breaks down many of the barriers to interactive civic engagement listed above. READ MORE »

The Tweeting MPs: New Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments

Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments (http://www.ipu.org/PDF/publications/SMG2013EN.pdf)

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has released a new guide for members of parliament on how to use social media. It is not the flashiest guide, and it does not go on for pages about the potential uses of social media that would benefit an MP. The guide does provide, however, the essentials for how to approach social media use within parliaments. It makes no assumptions about the knowledge level of the reader, and provides basic information about what social media actually is, and gives examples. The guide is exactly what members of parliament need to read to start thinking about social media use.

The guide covers areas often neglected areas, such as copyrighted material, privacy, and how to measure effectiveness of social media use. The piece emphasizes the importance of strategic planning, of sufficiently staffing, and of training staff members. It also provides helpful charts on what to consider before starting social media campaign and even on how to respond to different types of posts (see below)

The publication does not provide the magic key to creating the Facebook page that will gain ten thousands of "Likes", or the Twitter account that will garner the most followers. It is honest in stating that "There is no right answer; how you use social media will be influenced by a wide variety of on- and offline variables." That honesty and the focus on strategy, make this guide a great starting point for any government organization seeking to enter the world of social media.  READ MORE »

The Cost of Openness

Myanmar used to have one of the highest costs for SIM cards in the world. However, after the 2011 election and subsequent efforts to open up Burma to the international community, prices for SIM cards have drastically dropped.

Quartz just published its findings on the decline of SIM cards prices, which have become vastly more affordable to average citizens in recent years:

READ MORE »

NDI at Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

NDI Participates in Right to Information Conference at Stanford University

NDI is presenting a number of papers at a Stanford University conference entitled: “Right to Information and Transparency in the Digital Age: Policy, Tools and Practices”. The conference “seeks to bring together people engaged in law, policy, social movements, administration, technology, design and the use of technology for accessing information.” Two papers  by Chris Doten and Lauren Kunis from NDI looked at information access and political participation in West Africa. 

Chris Doten’s paper, “Transparent Trees Falling in Empty Forests: Civil Society as Open Data Analysts  and Communications Gateways,” specifically focuses on access to and analysis of election data. NDI worked with Coalition for Democracy and Development in Ghana (CDD) in the recent Ghana election.  In the context of election data, in particular, Doten suggests there is a need for solid and publicly available analysis of available data and promotion of that analysis through various media, including publishing of raw data. Without analysis and public distribution through a variey of channels, election data is like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods with no one hearing it. By providing access and analysis Doten suggest that there is the potential for a better informed citizenry.  READ MORE »

Tunisian Idol: Web Debates Version

Videos from Munathara's Youth Debates

I recently wrapped up a whirlwind week in Tunis including initial planning for the upcoming election monitoring effort with our partner Mourakiboun and data managment meetings with the ruling and opposition parties. NDI's partnering with a savvy CSO named Munathara which is not just arranging one-off debates but building an entire debating culture in Tunisia.

It's pretty cool to be dealing with an organization that is doing its job so effectively you have a hard time suggesting areas for them to improve, though I'm not sure what it means for my employment prospects.

I love their approach. It's incredibly small-d democratic from beginning to end.

First, they start the process by soliciting ideas for what the next topic of debate should be. Vibrant conversations on their Facebook page are distilled into a handful of motions. These top topics are then posted as polls, and the community again weighs in to pick the debate subject for the next round.

Interested people then dive in to creating 33-second videos where they articulate the reasons they are for or against the motion. They've got a couple weeks to do so. Tunisian youth have created scores of videos for the site already. READ MORE »

Checking the Online Pulse: Sentiment Analysis for Politics and Participation

Facebook Likes

Online sentiment analysis -- measuring the pulse of what is being said about a brand, an idea, a position, or a person online -- provides an interesting and quick (albeit non-scientific) pulse of the 'vox populis' in so far as that voice uses social media. Using adjectives used with a specific term (such as love, hate, like, loathe, etc.), sentiment analysis tools scan public tweets, blog posts, or other available online media to mine for these keywords and a sense of the how a public audience feels about it. We were curious about how this might apply to our work in politics and for democracy support. Here is what we found. 

1. Sentiment analysis is far from perfect or often even accurate. Algorithms cannot distinguish between nuanced usages of words ("No way am I voting for Obama" vs. "No way! Obama has a new app! So cool!") nor can they detect sarcasm. Additionally, Pew Research, an American research institute focused on polling analysis, conducted research showing that for large public opinion polls, Twitter tends to skew either towards liberal or conservative ends, making the world look more polarized than it is.  Sentiment analysis and online digital media monitoring needs to take into consideration he unrepresentative nature of an online audience (wealthier, more male, younger) and account for that.  Pew researchers also point out in a recent study that out those "who comment on Twitter about news events the to share their opinions on subjects that interest them most;, whereas national surveys ask questions of a random sample [of Americans], regardless of their personal engagement on the issues."   For a great, critical and nuanced article on how news media is using sentiment analysis about poltics, read this Niemann Lab piece.

READ MORE »

Building a Better Digital Security Training

Many digital security training module concepts.

I'm holed up with a bunch of geeks for a week talking about the art of digital security training. Since I've been with NDI, keeping people safe on the intertubes has gone from an afterthought in the international development space to something that scores of organizations are doing to support activists, journalists, rights defenders and democracy advocates.

With regimes getting nastier online by the day and even the head of the world's biggest intelligence service vulnerable to government cyber-snooping, there's a huge need for increasing the number of people able to share lessons in this area; funders, too have been shoveling heaps of money into this space.  We desperately need to grow the pools of well-taught trainers deeply experienced in digital security for people in the most sensitive political spaces,. There's been some well-intentioned but not well-educated trainers who can do more harm than good struggling to fill this void, leaving a swath of pupils who feel safer than they should in their wake.

We're trying to fill in this gap.

A new program being led by Internews and NDItech with support from some of the top international digital security teams is working to create a gold-standard curriculum of teaching modules running the gamut of topics that a trainer may have to teach. READ MORE »

Kenya Decides - The Kenya Election, Mobiles, and Interactive Media

#KenyaDeciding

The polling stations are slowly closing in Kenya in a so-far largely peaceful day. This is a critical election in one of the most technically-advanced countries in sub-Saharan Africa with many monitoring efforts underway as #kenyadecides (to use the Twitter hashtag of choice). While many predict that is going to be a run-off election, we wanted to give a 'rundown' of all the cool tech used that we are watching:

1. The IEBC, the Kenyan Election Commission, put up (with some help from Google) an interactive map and SMS service for people to find their voter registration stations, registration status, and polling station on election day. It also includes a candidate finder. While the map has some usability issues, it's become a very useful resource for citizens that only can be improved upon.  It's a model for other independent election commissions that is commendable. IEBC's Facebook Page is also worth watching. Incidentally, by all accounts, the IEBC so far has done a great job providing security and ballots; it's also been very responsive to incident reports from both systematic election monitoring organizations and citizen reporting efforts.  No small feat given the enormous voter turnout.  

Most interestingly, IEBC promises to report election results in close-to real time using its API. UPDATE: The API from the IEBC with real-time election results data as the vote is counted is working fabulously and media houses in Kenya are pulling the data and transmitting it live on television. Unprecedented for Kenya.   READ MORE »

New on iTunes: NDI's Survey of Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations

Cover art from our newest ePublication

Check out the new publication NDI has on iTunes. "Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability, Citizen Engagement and Access to Information," the guide is now available to anyone with a iPad/iPhone/iTouch, a Nook, and available for download from the Lulu store

Strengthening Parliamentary Accountability surveys the amazing work of parliamentary monitoring organizations around the world that are working with parliaments to hold them more accountable, make them more responsive, and ultimately better serve citizen needs. The guide is part of the work of NDI's Opening Parliaments initiative.  

What is Lulu? Glad you asked. It is the service we used to publish and distribute the books. Following a formatting guide for how to upload, we were able to create a template through Google Drive, making it easy to upload the content into proper formatting and then used Lulu to convert into an epub. After some tinkering, guide was submitted and approved. After a bit more waiting, the ePub was placed on the iBookstore and Nook bookstore for free distribution, and free downloading.

Keep an eye out for more NDI publications on iTunes, and look for us to pop up in the Kindle bookstore soon.

 

 

 

Is Facebook the New Street for Protests in Closed Societies? Azerbaijan's Democracy Movement

Facebook Protests - The New Street in Closed Societies?

In Azerbaijan elections are looming and the country's citizens are engaged. Facebook is becoming fast one of the major vehicles through which political movements in the country are communicating and organizing.  President Ilham Aliyev is expected to be nominated in the coming weeks as the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party’s candidate. Opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar and the jailed Republican Alternative leader Ilgar Mammadov are among his potential challengers. 

While Yeni and Aliyev have built a power base for years, the landscape is changing rapidly, thanks to social media. According to Eurasia Net reporting, the use by citizen gruops of Facebook in particular is growing.

The Internet’s influence was most recently illustrated by a Facebook campaign that led to an unsanctioned rally in Baku in January against police treatment of protesters in the regional town of Ismayilli, and by a similar initiative to pay the fines of those demonstrators arrested. The social network also has been used as an information distribution vehicle about other protests and about a high-profile bribery scandal involving incumbent President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaijan Party.

A “Let’s Collect Five Qapik” campaign, organized via Facebook, Twitter and Internet forums, raised 12,500 manats ($15,930) from “more than 7,000 people” over two weeks to pay fines for those arrested during the Baku demonstration...

According to SocialBakers.com, the number of Facebook users in Azerbaijan is now at over 1 million, by far the largest in the Caucasus and numbers of new users are groing quickly. READ MORE »

Mali Speaks...and Listens

Mali Speaks, Al Jazeera

There are two projects in Mali that caught our eyes - or should we say, our ears? Al Jazeera, in partnership with mobile vendor Souktel, conducted a mobile survey in Mali, asking citizens' opinions via SMS about whether France's military intervention in the country was legitimate.  Al Jazeera then translated, tagged, and displayed responses on a color-coded map as part of its Mali Speaks project.  It is not entirely clear how many responses were recorded but the map is illuminating and well designed, illustrating how some sgment of the population feels about France's military intervention (Hint: Overwhelmingly positive). Of course, such citizen polls are not representative and tend to skew towards more literate, more urban, male, and wealthier resondents. Nonetheless, if combined with more systematic and stringent polling methodologies, they can provide a sense of the sentiment of citizens and can be conducted inexpensively in close-to real time. Combined with compelling visualizations, they can also be used by citizen groups as a tool for advocacy and by policy makers as a barometer of public opinion.

Al Jazeera has conducted other Speaks projects in Somalia, Uganda, and Libya. Souktel, earlier this year, also worked in Kenya where local youth leaders used the service to conduct and participate in live polls and votes via SMS to elect a board of directors, choose a name for their network, and determine an organizing structure for their regional youth movement. READ MORE »

Traversing Planet Blue Coat

Planet Blue Coat

Our trusted friends, the researchers at Citizen Lab recently published Planet Blue Coat, a report detailing the extent to which U.S.-manufactured network surveillance and content filtering technologies are used to facilitate repression against journalists, human rights activists, and other pro-democracy groups.

This is not a new problem. Software developed by Western countries to filter web-hosted content or otherwise obtain data from internet users without their knowledge and consent has been a serious issue for over a decade. It first emerged in China where Cisco Systems sought lucrative business opportunities with China's Golden Shield project, more commonly known as the Great Firewall of China. In recent years, similar technologies have emerged in repressive regimes throughout the Middle East, such as censoring and monitoring technologies in pre-revolutionary Tunisia and in Syria, as well as in closed societies such as Burma. READ MORE »

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