Circumventing Twitter Restrictions

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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


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 »

Our Digital Future: What's Next for Internet Research

NDItech was recently at an event on Our Digital Future: Ideas for Internet Research hosted by The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. A diverse panel of experts in the field were invited to the discussion: Matthew Reisman, a Senior Manager at Microsoft, Milton Mueller, Professor at the Syracuse University of Information Studies, Brian Bieron, Senior director with eBay, and Carolina Rossini who serves as Project Director for the Latin American Resource Center.

Panelists made a number of interesting observations about the status and power of the internet in today’s global society. Matthew Reisman pointed out that Microsoft, in particular, is interested in studies of how government regulatory policies are affecting the ability of entrepreneurs to conduct business online - which would be most easily measured by conducting econometric research on internet policies enacted around the world.  As trade and services burgeon online, governments are creating barriers that complicate the ease of doing international business. It is important for those researching the modern impact of the internet to consider just how these barriers are affecting businesses, economies, and people, especially in a world where eCommerce has grown to encompass over 6 percent of the global retail sector over a period of ten years. Milton Mueller further asserted that developing an understanding of intimate relations between technology and social relations is essential, including how [we] are going to govern newly implemented technologies, and what the global impact of this governance will be.

The internet is global and as such has particular impact on the economic possibilities for developing countries. We hope to see tangible data from conversations such as this that makes the point wht the internet - in economic and political terms - is a vital resource for countries worldwide.


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 »

Calculators, Magicians, and Diamonds

It was more photogenic than a magician.

My eighth grade math teacher was a stale, unpleasant, rather portly old man who obviously hated teaching. He had the notion that the best way for his students to learn was to assign us scores of repetitious problems in the form of “find x” without explaining to us what we were actually doing. One night as I drearily plugged quadratic formula after quadratic formula into my graphing calculator it dawned on me that there had to be some shortcut for the work. I looked up “how to program a calculator” on Google and that evening I completely fell in love with programming. It wasn’t before long that I’d put my old TI-83 calculator behind me and was spending most of my free time building web pages and exploring the magical worlds of Java, C++, and Python.

I arrived at Stanford having every intention of majoring in computer science and eventually joining Google or a startup or fulfilling some other Silicon Valley cliche. READ MORE »

Tips and Tools - NOI's Organizer’s Toolbox

Photo credit: New Organizing Institute

The New Organizing Institute (NOI) is a community of organizers dedicated to supporting the organizing efforts of citizens by training organizers to build and manage effective movements. The NOI’s online Organizer’s Toolbox provides the basic tools, technologies, and strategies to help community organizers to build movements and achieve real change. According to the NOI's mission statement:

If people have the tools to engage others, the tools to build powerful campaigns, and a community of practice to help them learn and grow, they can win real change, make measurable improvements in people’s lives, and restore faith in our government and our democracy.

This is true not only for community organizing efforts in the U.S., where the NOI is focused, but also international efforts such as those supported by NDI and its partners. The toolbox hosts ten Resource Centers that support various aspects of campaign organization, including online organizing, organization and leadership, data management, voter registration and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives. From tips on public speaking to registering voters to engaging online, the toolbox covers a variety of the elements essential to community organizing.  It also contains a module designed specifically for campaign trainers, which can support programs that include a training-of-trainers component.


Photo credit: New Organizing Institute

Here at NDItech, we are always on the lookout for relevant resources that can support the efforts of NDI and its partners in the field. This online Toolbox is an excellent public resource for organizations that support movements worldwide to develop their message, engage effectively, and affect real change in their societies. By sharing past experiences, best practices, and key tactics and tools, resources such as this online toolbox can support effective community organizing and democracy-building efforts around the world.  


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 »

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 »

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 »

Calling All Tech4Dem Workers: We Want to Hear From You (for a Salary Survey)

Do you work in the Tech4Dem space? Ever wonder what our field is worth? We are conducting an informal salary survey of this field to better understand the going rates for people at varying levels of job levels, experience, and education. If you fit the (admittedly lose) criteria outlined below, please fill out the salary survey. Real-time results are updated here! 

#NDItech +1: @Social Media Week

Are you planning on attending Social Media Week? There are more than 100 events scheduled in town, focused on digital and mobile media, campaigns, politics, participation, as well as marketing and advertising. Take a look at the list of amazing speakers, and register today, as the spots fill up quickly. NDI is hosting three events that cannot be missed. They include:

Women, Tech, and Democracy: the Next Frontier (#smwwomentech4dem)

Tuesday, February 19, 4:00pm to 5:30pm

Tech plays a crucial role in this work but women are still behind in access, use, and ability to afford to communicate online and via mobiles. A panel of high-powered women will explore what we know about the effective us of tech in women’s political participation and where we are still falling very short. Takeaways for the audience: Getting the lay of the land of women, tech, and democracy, and concrete projects and ideas for how to increase women’s technology prowess for their full and powerful participation in governance and politics worldwide.

When Good Projects Fail: The Tech4Democracy FailFaire (#smwfailfaire)

Wednesday, February 20, 5:00pm to 7:30pm

Tech4Democracy is the next big thing. NDI, as a leader in the field, has had a decade of experience in using tech for democracy support worldwide. As such, we have seen our share of tech4dem failures – projects that aimed to use tech to advance democracy but did not work as intended.  We have invited colleagues and friends form the field to present failures in tech4dem to present at the Tech4Dem Failfaire. FailFaires are entertaining, interactive events that feature #fails in using tech for social change. The Failfaire will feature a lightening round of talks on amazing failures and the learnings they generated.

The Tech4Democracy Science Fair (#smwtech4demfair)

Thursday, February 21, 11:00am to 1:00pm

Join us for a showcase of #tech4dem tools and projects the world over. Handling issues from data for elections in Ghana to open source tools in Cambodia, from reporting on abuses in Nicaragua to texting to MPs in Uganda, come to a Science Fair of amazing projects using tech in innovative ways to support democratic movements and activists worldwide

All events will be held at NDI's headquarters, at 455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001

iLove iLab

iLab Liberia

Liberia has one of the least-developed communication infrastructures in the world. Literacy is at roughly 60%.  The nation is still recovering from one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history. All in all, not perhaps where one would expect to find a burgeoning group of tech innovators and wanna-be geeks. However, walk in the door of iLab Liberia and you'll find just that.

Kate Cummings, iLab's executive director, came to NDI last week to share some of her experiences working in Liberia. iLab is one of the tech hubs that have sprung up across Africa following on the model from granddaddy iHub Nairobi, epicenter of Kenya's digital development. One of the most exciting concepts I've seen in the world of development in recent years, these tech hubs provide a supportive environment for the experienced to teach the novice, for ideas to percolate, for business ideas to bloom, and for new tools to be shared. iHub, however, has an unfair advantage - they have an in-space coffee shop with amazing Kenyan coffee. READ MORE »

Can I Ask You a Question? Tech for Engagement in Somalia

Gathering information, increasing knowledge

Want to know what Americans think about the status of the US economy? There's a poll for that. What about if people in the UK would rather be brainy or beautiful? There's a poll for that, too.  Pollsters in the United States gather information through all sorts of channels, be it mobile phones, websites, Facebook, and utilize lots of demographic proprietary databases to reach respondents.  

But polling is not just for rich countries. Asking citizens for their opinions can result in powerful insights into new topics in lower-resource environments as well. 

Voice of America, in partnership with Google Ideas, surveyed 3000 Somali citizens earlier this year. Asking questions about the constitutional review process in the country, Voice of America gathered information from Somalis using an open source platform. As Google Ideas notes on its blog,

"As the draft constitution has undergone revisions in recent months, Google Ideas developed a pilot project with the Somali service, Africa Division of Voice of America (VOA) to help Somalis register their opinions. Starting in April, with just a few clicks, VOA pollsters could call and survey Somalis for their thoughts on a new constitution, asking questions such as: Should there be a strong central government? Should Sharia law be the basis of the constitution? And should there be a requirement that women be included as elected officials? Over three rounds of polling, VOA used the internal site to collect the survey results."

Marietje Schaake on the new "Internet Public" - from the DNC International Leaders Forum

Marietje Schaake at ILF 2012

Cross-posted from the NDI ILF blog.

“How can we foster democracy in a hyper-connected world?” asked Dutch Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake. During a TED-style talk she focused on the implications of the rise of the “Internet public,” global citizens connected by new communications technology. Schaake discussed new opportunities for empowering the "Internet public", while warning of weakening governments and strengthening corporations.  While the Internet has created openness, regimes and groups who fear giving up power are also using it to repress citizens.

Schaake was inspired by the example of Neda Agha-Soltan, killed in Iran during post-election protests in 2009. Because the world saw that Iranians could fight their fear, others came to believe anything was possible. Since then, Iran has decided the only way to control their citizens is to create a “halal” intranet, separate from the rest of the world. She listed Syria, China, Iran and Tunisia prior to the ouster of President Ben Ali as authoritarian regimes that also use online tools to repress and control, but noted that such problems are not exclusive to autocratic governments — democracies have also created their own repressive laws. READ MORE »

Hiring Friday! #tech4dem Jobs Galore!

There is no democracy unless we all sing

It's Hiring Friday in the #tech4dem field! Here is a line-up of jobs and internships of interest to those working on tech-for-democracy projects.

  • Making democracy work and working for democracy with tech - here at NDI. @NDITech has openings for software developers and interns. Intern position information is here - the deadline is approaching!  We also have several software engineering positions open.  All involve working with dynamic project teams to conceptualize, design and implement technology into NDI’s democracy assistance programs around the world. International travel may be required.  Go to --> Technology to see the current openings.
  • Human Rights First is looking for a full-time web developer to help maintain and extend Drupal website, maintain the existing Wordpress website and deploy digital advocacy products through Salsa. The salary and benefits for this position are competitive, the team is collaborative and creative, and the position is located in the NY office. Details here
  • New America Foundation - The Open Internet Tools Project (OpenITP) seeks a well-organized, persistent researcher with investigative skills for a part-time consulting contract lasting approximately 4 months, to research and report on the state of circumvention technology usage in Asia, concentrating on mainland China. Pay will be based on experience. The research will likely involve travel to Asia, with expenses reimbursed. More information here. 
  • The Citizen Lab in Toronto is seeking a Software Developer to engage in software development to support a range of research projects at the intersection of information communications technologies, global security, and human rights. You will work with the Citizen Lab team to develop existing and new projects, assisting with all phases of software development from requirements gathering and implementation to testing and deployment. Full details here. 

Unique Opportunity to Focus International Leaders on Tech4Dem

2012 International Leaders Forum

Every four years NDI hosts hundreds of political and civil society leaders along with diplomats from more than 100 countries to observe the US nominating process at the Democratic National Convention - which starts next Tuesday. Our guests include legislators, cabinet ministers, leaders of civic organizations and over 100 ambassadors from the diplomatic corps based in Washington. NDI puts together an entire daytime program of interesting panels and events for our international guests that complement the official evening convention speeches and activities.

This year NDI's International Leaders Forum (ILF) program has a tech4dem thread running through it that provides a unique opportunity for tech leaders to introduce key themes and issues to the global group of political leaders. We've partnered with Google to host a series of three "Democracy Spotlights" that will highlight important trends and ideas in technology and politics, and a panel discussion - called 21st Century Campaigns - that will feature digital strategists from the Obama, Romney and successful online issue-based campaigns.  READ MORE »

Tech4Dem Tuesdays in DC - Join Us (and see TAILS, the Safety and Anonymity Tool)

If you are in Washington, DC, join us for the first-ever Tech4Dem Tuesday Happy Hour this coming Tuesday, August 28 at RFD. Think beer, open government, tech for parliamentary monitoring, elections, good governance - all things tech for democracy worldwide. Laugh, cry, and drink with your fellow DCers who work to make democracy work with tech the world over.

Who: If you're working on or interested in tech for democracy, fair elections, good governance, a free media, and citizen voice, come on over. We'll feature several interesting projects each month (informally, over the din of the bar), so if you have cool stuff to show off, bring it!  We'll be bringing TAILS, the tool that gives you privacy for everyone anywhere. 

Where: RFD Bar
810 7th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

When: Tech4Dem Tuesday, of course - August 28, 5:30pm on.

Why: Because anyone who works in this field knows that we love to socialize, talk shop, and share ideas.  And hey, as they say, working for democracy and making democracy work never ends, but it's better with a beer.

RSVP below so that we have an idea of headcount and can warn the bar. We may just spring for your first round if you let us know you're coming!


Lessons from #PDF12: leaving the republic of Nerdistan

What my after-school coordinator tweets might have looked like.

I spent more time tweeting during my 48 hours at PDF12 than I had in the past six months. This is not an exaggeration; I ran the numbers. (And you can too, if you follow me, @hillaryeason. Ahem.) Part of this, of course, was due to the fact that I was at a conference that was About Technology; not only was this kind of tech widely used, it also acted as a signaling mechanism, establishing the Tweeter as someone who was engaged and tech-savvy. In that respect, at least, the demands of this job differ substantially from my last gig.

But as I was thinking about the ways in which I, as an NDI employee, actually use Twitter, I realized that I certainly could have used this kind of technology the last time I worked in this city. I ran an after-school program in a high-crime, low-income neighborhood that served 200 kids and employed 20 staff. I had next to no resources, was constantly trying to communicate information to overworked teachers who were never in the same place at the same time, and had to somehow funnel info on all of these challenges to my bosses at the public school district in order to make any kind of change. Isn't that what Twitter is for? READ MORE »

Raising the Bar


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to share the NDITech team's work in citizen technology, open data and open government, and internet freedom at MediaBarCamp in Vilnius, Lithuania. For those that may not be familiar with BarCamp, it is an international network of user-generated conferences (also known as "unconferences") that feature open, participatory workshop-events, the content of which is provided by participants. The beauty of this design is that attendees are able to help shape the discussions and mold the event structure to serve their needs. 

MediaBarCamp provides the opportunity to stimulate development of new media projects in Belarus, but also arrange coordination between existing projects in the region. This year, MediaBarCamp was able to bring together projects from around the world, including other closed societies, to help participants exchange information on how to successfully operate despite media restrictions and other challenges that impact freedom of expression and access to information.  READ MORE »

Informed Communities: Global Edition

Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age

While the United States does not have 'the exclusive license to innovation in democracy and citizenship,' looking at how technology has impacted democracy in America can highlight some important lessons for strengthening democracy around the world. The Knight Commission, a partnership between the Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute was formed to examine these issues.

The resulting report focused on the importance of 'informed communities,' which are able to fully participate in a democratic society. However, the information needs of Americans are unequally met, limiting the ability of some citizens to participating fully in government. The report presents three main ways to ensure communities are informed: maximizing available information, strengthening the capacity to engage with information, and providing opportunities for greater participation. Relevant information helps communities gather, contextualize and share information important to them. Providing tools and skills gives these communities the ability to utilize this information. Beyond this, opportunities must be present for participation in the governance systems.  READ MORE »

Building Trust Online

Last Thursday evening, the New America Foundation hosted a panel on building trust through technology. They'd put together a fantastic collection of case studies: Stephanie Schierholz of NASA discussed how tweetups had built a community around and among space-watchers, while Deborah Dignam talked about the British Council's experiences building digital campaigns around art exhibitions and events. Danny Harris told the story of how he became a curator of community stories via the People's District blog. I enjoyed hearing about the hybrid online/offline bonds these projects have generated, but I was disappointed to realize during the Q&A that none of the community-builders could really offer a recipe for those successes.

While building trust online is difficult, however, it's not entirely mysterious. In my previous life as a graduate student, I explored the academic research on the topic and convinced a few kindly web-oriented nonprofits to let me interview them for a benchmarking study. And while my conclusions were anything but groundbreaking, I've found them to be a useful shorthand for thinking about the things good community-builders instinctively do - including all of last night's speakers. READ MORE »

Upgrading the Airwaves

a broadcasting tower

Radio often seems like a lost art. Enthusiasm for mobile technologies and online resources overshadows more traditional, low-tech broadcasting methods. But by no means has radio been left behind. Community radio stations around the world are using new technologies to enhance their broadcasts so listeners can have more control over the programs, engage more fully with the content, and work towards fulfilling community information needs. Listener outreach and participation help radio broadcasting stay relevant, connect listeners to a broader information network, and provide a platform for community discourse.

After radio, mobile phones are one of the most prevalent technologies in the developing world. SMS provides radio stations a direct link with listeners, allowing for feedback and discussion. Frontline SMS has developed a tool to help community stations better facilitate dynamic interactions using text messaging. Kibera-based Pamoja FM is one example of the Frontline SMS tool in action. Pamoja FM promotes a peaceful society and empowers the youth of Nairobi’s slums by providing an outlet for discussion among a disenfranchised group. READ MORE »

Governing the Internet

The Internet Governance Forum

The Internet Governance Forum's annual conference started today in Nairobi. This year's theme is the "Internet as a catalyst for change," and the role of Web tools in sparking social change appears to be a popular topic. I've been following the conference today, listening for what new ideas and norms will come out of the confluence of civil society groups, human rights activists, tech experts, and government representatives the UN brings together each fall.

The Internet is such a sprawling, fast-growing network of devices, users, and applications that many of us who call ourselves residents or digital natives can hardly define the place, let alone manage it. In that spirit, the IGF is an ambitious attempt to bring together all the Internet's stakeholders and provide an inclusive conversation on the policies and principles that underpin these global connections and the many, many ways in which we use them. READ MORE »

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