In Fight Against Online Disinformation, A Variety of Tools Are Needed

Credit: Dave Taylor

In technology, you often hear geeks referencing the classic “garbage in, garbage out” problem. When the inputs to a system are bad, however beautifully crafted the program itself may be, the outputs will necessarily be bad as well. Our democratic systems are dependent on the input of citizens, but when disinformation is also an input the outputs of our processes can be deeply flawed. Disinformation and the systemic distrust it fuels has been a dangerous ingredient in the global surge of nativism, intolerance, and polarization undermining democracy and human rights around the world. Understanding and stopping disinformation is a tremendous challenge; any single solution will be incomplete so many will be required. In 2018, the fastest, most virulent and dangerous disinformation is spreading on digital platforms, and as such technical understanding is critical to wrap our heads around the problem.

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Fixing the Glitch: Being part of the #NotTheCost Campaign

Seyi Akiwowo (second from right) speaking at the #NotTheCost Forum held at the George Washington University titled “Opportunities and Threats Posed by New Media.”

In 2017, after facing horrendous online abuse and harassment when a video of my speech at the European Parliament went viral, I founded Glitch!UK, a not-for-profit online abuse advocacy, campaigning and training organisation. Glitch!UK aims to end online abuse and harassment including online violence against women in politics. ‘Glitch’ means a temporary malfunction with equipment, and I used it for my organisation’s name because when we look back on this period in time I want us all to be able to say that the rise in online abuse and harassment was only a ‘glitch’ in our history. I was asked to be part of NDI’s Internet Governance Forum 2017 panel on the issue of online violence against women in politics, and in the months since then, I have become a public advocate for NDI’s #NotTheCost campaign, participating in three #NotTheCost events in Washington, D.C., in May.

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A Once in a Generation Opportunity - LGBTI Rights in the Western Balkans and Turkey

Representatives from NDI staff and the NDI Equal Voices Advisory Council with the Equal Rights Association co-Executive Directors Dragana Todorović and Amarildo Fecanji.

 

“This is a once in a generation opportunity,” declared Dragana Todorović, Executive Director of the LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), during a recent meeting with NDI staff in Washington, DC. The “once in a generation opportunity” Dragana referenced alludes to a shared political entry point for most member groups: the chance to use the European Union (EU) integration process to advocate for greater LGBTI rights and inclusion at the national level. Leveraging this opportunity now could establish mechanisms and norms for LGBTI equality, such as national action plans – new or strengthened legislation and LGBTI CSO visibility in a mainstream political processes – that would have an enduring impact for years to come.

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Name It, Talk About It: Putting an end to violence against women in politics in Honduras

Political party members participate in a focus group to inform the assessment on violence against women in political parties in Honduras.

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For NDI and its Honduran local partners, addressing violence against women in politics is critical to promoting strong and inclusive democratic societies. Violence against women in politics is a barrier to their active participation in democratic spaces and limits their ability to lead and be heard by their communities. It is important to place this issue on the political agenda and advocate for legislation to prevent, respond to, sanction and eradicate all forms of violence against women. In an effort to document violence against politically-active women in Honduras, NDI supported the creation of the Women’s Political Violence Observatory during the 2017 electoral process. The Observatory documented and followed 14 cases of violence against female candidates in San Pedro Sula, including Councillor Fátima Mena Baide, throughout the pre-electoral period.

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What makes some people more susceptible to disinformation?

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.

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Moving Closer to Citizens: NDI’s Global Study on Political Party Development

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:

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Can blockchain help rebuild trust in democracy?

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.

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INFO/tegrity and NDI’s Efforts to Combat Disinformation

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.

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#MeToo for Women in Politics

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.

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Best DemWorks Posts of 2017

In its third year, DemWorks has solidified itself as one of the premier blogs on democratic development around the world. The number of visitors to the blog has expanded rapidly, with nearly 40 percent of the blog’s 186,702 unique visitors coming in 2017 alone. Our subscriber list has ballooned to upwards of 3,000 democracy lovers who have been gracious enough to let us into their inboxes (we know it can be a crowded place). Here’s our list of the most-read blog posts and series from 2017.

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