This is for responses to other writings.

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 »

Crowdsourcing Political Incidents Online

Candidate posters, Kenya Presidential Elections, March 2013.

Kenya's iHub recently released its research on crowdsourced information in the highly contested 2013 Kenya Presidential elections. The study sought to clarify the value of information collected from citizens about political incidents from online media, and to answer whether 1) “passive crowdsourcing” is viable in the Kenyan context  - passive crowdsourcing being defined as monitoring social media such as Twitter 2) determine what unique information Twitter posts provided about the election, and 3) determine the conditions in which crowdsourced information is a viable news source. As part of the report, iHub provided a useful set of recommendations and a decision-making framework for practitioners who are considering similar methodologies. 

The report provides great detail about the research methodology and data sources (Twitter, online traditional media, targeted crowdsourcing platforms like Uchaguzi, and fieldwork). Particularly impressive are the mechanisms described for capture, storage and classification of tweets and the detailed approaches to filtering for newsworthy tweets. The glossary is helpful in clarifying terminology such as that of "passive", "active" and "targeted" crowdsourcing of information from citizens. (NDI prefers the term "citizen reporting" over crowdsourcing for citizen-generated incidents data.) READ MORE »

Just Your Average Tech User

Lesley here- travel junkie, steak enthusiast, and hardline supporter of the oxford comma. What brings me to ICT, you ask? Good question.

For the last six years I have devoted myself to the study of international affairs and political science, not an uncommon background for our team here at ICT. I have traveled extensively and lived for prolonged periods of time in Turkey and recently returned to the U.S. from a short stint in Berlin. From these experiences, one thing has become increasingly clear to me: Technology matters. More than that, technology matters to everyone, not just tech devotees and computer scientists. Technology impacts every person, every day, around the world. This is what brings me, a normal everyday tech user, to ICT.

Technology is an ever expanding asset for civil society and democracy development. As I watched my beloved Turkey go through the Gezi Park protests at the end of May, I couldn’t help but wonder at how technology and media impacted what was going on. It wasn’t just the use of social media to coordinate and spread the word about the protests, but also the silencing of media that prevented the rest of the country from knowing what was happening in Gezi Park. READ MORE »

NDITech Adventures: Mining Big Data For Public Political Sentiment

Leveraging Multiple Public Content Sources on the Internet with Crimson Hexagon Allows Us to Gauge Public Opinion
The United Nations estimates that more than 2.7 billion people will be online this year. What if there was a way to leverage the power of 2.7 billion people to tell their stories about how they feel about political topics? NDI recently received a grant from Crimson Hexagon to use their ForSight platform to delve deep into the public Internet to get answers to complex political questions.  The platform is based on mathematical algorithms developed by a team of academics at Harvard.  As we are rolling out Crimson Hexagon's platform for specific programs we run, we wanted to test it on a topic we are keenly interested in.  So, we decided we wanted to know more about what the global discussions are relating to "Technology and Democracy." 
Forsight uses a powerful supervised machine learning algorithm developed by Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. It allows users to examine a huge volume of public information on the Internet such as tweets and Weibo posts, public Facebook posts, forums, Youtube, news, blogs, comments, and reviews -- all in nearly real time. Forsight identifies content by keyword associations and users "train" the algorithm by categorizing a small set of the found content into specific categories. Once trained, the platform scans the internet and its historical database for content that is matching the user-defined criteria and categorizes it according to the user’s specific schema.  Because Forsight allows users to go back in time it is very useful for learning more about the context of events, or other political and social phenomena, prior to their occurrence. 

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 »

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 »

Twitter: Expanding Voice and Space for Political Discourse In Highly Restricted Countries?

Twitter Revolt

A recent article in the New York Times argues that Twitter is used by citizens in Saudi Arabia to increase the political space for public discourse that did not exist before:  "Open criticism of this country’s royal family, once unheard-of, has become commonplace in recent months. Prominent judges and lawyers issue fierce public broadsides about large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women deride the clerics who limit their freedoms. Even the king has come under attack. All this dissent is taking place on the same forum: Twitter."

The NY Times staff writer Robert Worth, an often-astute chronicler of the MIddle East, argues that "Unlike other media, Twitter has allowed Saudis to cross social boundaries and address delicate subjects collectively and in real time, via shared subject headings like “Saudi Corruption” and “Political Prisoners,” known in Twitter as hashtags."

Is Twitter becoming "like a parliament, but not the kind of parliament that exists in this region,” as Faisal Abdullah, a 31-year-old lawyer, is quoted in the story -  even a "true parliament, where people from all political sides meet and speak freely?"

Or is allowing citizen to express themselves publicly via social media  a clever tactic by rulers in  highly restricted to allow citizens to let off steam while violently quelling real reforms and street protests?  Is Twitter really expanding 'political voice' and 'space' - the ability of citizens to have the capacities and articulate their interests and needs and engage in democratic processes to claim their rights and  identify appropriate avenues to address their issue  concerns?   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 Learned: A Shift in ICT Programs

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. - Einstein

Just like any other industry, the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field has experienced significant shifts. As major international development stakeholders have begun focusing on funding ICT projects, these shifts have widespread implications for how programs develop in the field.

The tone of the conversation surrounding ICT4D seems to be changing, as more emphasis is being placed on the strategy and implementations of projects instead of the infinite potential of technology. We have been a part of this converstaion, rethinking the question sustainability, ICT as a means and not a goal, and escaping the tunnel vision of technology.  Richard Heeks wrote about the early history of these changes in a paper entitled The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto. Mr. Heeks explained the difference in earlier attitude between the first programs, and the projects in the field today. Early programs relied upon "technovelty" and focused more on spreading access as quickly as possible instead of on thoughtful implementation. He generalizes the outcome of those early projects into a few words: “failure...and anecdote[s].” Often programs would return with great stories about how technology had changed one individual's life, without analysis to the larger effects. Past the promotional materials, positive impact became difficult to assess, which in turn led to many projects today being framed by sustainability, scalability, and evaluation.  READ MORE »

Are you listening? Consultation in Policy Development

Pirate Party - Direct Democracy, with style

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to work with Social Democratic party members from around Southern and Eastern Europe (Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia) as part of a conference coordinated by NDI’s Regional Party initiative (RPI) and the ruling party in Montenegro, Demokratska Partija Socijalista. Thematically, the conference focused on ICT and political participation through sessions on transparency and accountability, campaigning, youth leadership and policy development.

The latter, policy development, is central to the conference series, and we discussed ways that smart applications of technology can improve the outcomes of policy development.

As we’ve witnessed in the last few years, the “internet public” reflects the changed nature of human beings as social and civic individuals.  As part of this phenomenon, new connections are increasingly important, and pertinent information gets shared rapidly. One driver of these tools for political use has been the perception that political bodies are self-interested, dysfunctional, and don’t represent citizen interests. We’ve seen citizens rebelling against this order in ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy Movement, and newly founded political parties and organizations. READ MORE »

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 »

Yesterday game boring and hate. New game!

The author's old classroom in Korea, where her students had no qualms indicating if her lessons worked or not.


My name is Hillary, and I'm so excited - no, really, you have no idea - to announce that I've arrived @NDITech. I'm a former journalist, teacher, and toy store employee who grew up in a house of tinkerers and tech enthusiasts, and I recently graduated from the Fletcher School in Boston. More importantly, my background has made me passionate about tech and media use across disciplines, and coming to NDI allows me to put those interests to good use.

My main interests on the tech team include nonformal education, public diplomacy and outreach, and social marketing, as well as the larger (and related) issues of user interaction and the effects of tech projects from a systemic perspective. I believe strongly that technology needs to be engaging and desirable as well as accessible - not just from an infrastructural perspective, but in terms of the ways in which people go through their daily existence. Which brings me to the title of this post.

As anyone who's ever taught can attest, children can be a very, very tough crowd. A few years ago, I was teaching English in Korea, and one of my fellow teachers put on her Facebook an exchange she'd had with a student. It's now been added to the (long) list of internal memes I maintain.

STUDENT Teacher! Today play game?

TEACHER No, we played a game yesterday.

STUDENT Yesterday game boring and hate. New game! READ MORE »

Re-Mixing and Story Telling: From the Classroom to the Field

Digital Storytelling
Last week, as my colleagues focused on Digital Security Awareness week, I traveled over to the west coast to attend the 2012 International Studies Association conference. This trip was a part of my graduate studies at Georgetown University (where I am pursing a Masters in Communication, Culture, and Technology), and while I was there I was reminded of the important relationship that exists between creating and editing stories and international development projects.

The panel I was a part of stemmed from a course (Technology, Culture, and Development) I took last semester.  As a part of the class, students are asked to create a Cultural Identity Narrative, which is a 6 minute video that remixes a novel and a film from the developing world.  The project allows students to create a story that explores a particular aspect of a culture, using the authors' and directors' words rather than their own.  The project teaches students to think about how they construct narratives and understand how they chose to edit existing stories to create their own. READ MORE »

Tweeting International Women's Day

In celebration of International Women's Day, the Women's Political Participation program here at NDI hosted a tweetchat featuring the State Department (@S_GWI), Secretary Madeleine Albright, and iKNOW Politics (@iKNOW_Politics). The discussion included opportunities and challenges to women's roles in politics. This event is an innovative approach to provide a space for stakeholders in women's empowerment to engage with thought leaders and policy makers across countries. Below is our Storify for the event: READ MORE »

Latin America: Increase Citizen Participation & Government Accountability

Broadband LAC.jpg

This week I spent a couple of hours working with our Latin America team on a project that allows citizens to pose questions to politicians and share information about candidates' positions on pressing issues through a web platform. These types of projects have been popular throughout the region. Peru, for example, has launched the Promesómetro website, which allows citizens to measure their representatives' promises and engage in online conversations on their progress. Chile’s Ciudadano Inteligente portal provides citizens with a wealth of information, from tools that allow them to follow their Parliament's debates to report cards on how politicians are progressing on their promises. In Nicaragua, the website Viva el Voto allows citizens to report on election irregularities and allows them to get historical data on election processes.  These are just a couple of projects - many more can be found throughout the region. READ MORE »

Predicting the Future: the 2012 African Tech Space

Technology in Africa

This semester I am taking a course on "Prediciting the Futures". While I am no expert in the techniques that futurists use, I thought it might be fun to look at some predictions that have been made for 2012 and see how they apply to our field.

This year, Afrinnovator started 2012 by sharing 12 predictions for the African technology scene. These predictions touch on a number of industries such as health care, media, and business (to name a few) and present an exciting 2012 for the continent.

A few predictions that stood out and are bound to have an effect on our work are:

  • The shift from feature phone to smart phone and tablets. This prediction caught my attention because it builds on the findings of a report that was released by Center for International Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy. As we mentioned a few weeks back, this report finds that by end of the decade virtually all cell phones sold will be smart phones. This shift is bound to impact our work. Take, for example, citizen journalism. With smart phones, citizens can report on issues by sending in a text, or a picture, or a video. Citizens can use their smart phones to capture stories through various mediums and thus bring to light stories that are missed by the mainstream media. This presents an opportunity for us to work with civil society groups and activists in new and exciting ways. Of course, it is not all rosy and it is imperative that we also address the challenges that come with switching to smart phones.

Social Media for Collective Action

Zeynep Tufecki

Climbing aboard the social media train ... I’ve been thinking about the special role of social media and collective action under authoritarian regimes since I caught a talk by Zeynep Tufecki at the Berkman Center last week. Tufekci’s research considers the question: how does an unpopular regime stay in power for so long? and how does social media play a role in how these regimes fall? Part of the answer is by solving the collective action problem.

So what is a collective action problem, and how does one solve it? Collective action problems are situations that require wide participation to solve, have high participation costs, and high costs of failure. This triple-threat makes collective action problems especially tricky to organize and solve. Authoritarian regimes often pose collective action problems, as there are few ways of organizing and the cost of failing often results in torture or being thrown in jail. Whenever dissidence appears, governments quarantine and isolate the hubs to ensure that protests don’t spread.

Factor in the challenge of misinformation - as a measure of self-protection, citizens who might privately oppose the regime publicly claim to support it. This in turn creates a false perception (or pluralistic ignorance) that friends, neighbors, and other potential collaborators are content with the status quo, although their views are different in private. READ MORE »

The Perils of Punditry

Malcolm Gladwell v. Clay Shirkey

Poor Malcolm Gladwell.

After writing a stinging indictment of the ineffectuality of the internet in activism – "Social media can’t provide what social change has always required" – he got a lot of pushback from those who felt his take was a bit grumpy and lacking in nuance.

Clay Shirkey, another thinker on the impacts of new communications tools on society, wrote up his much more optimistic vision in Foreign Affairs. (Sorry, paywall.)

In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs (March/April 2011), Gladwell and Clay Shirkey argued in a brief response to Shirkey's piece. They must be archrivals on the basis of coiffure alone.

Gladwell demands Shirkey demonstrate his case by proving a counterfactual: "for his argument to be anything close to persuasive, he has to convince readers that in the absence of social media, those uprisings would not have been possible." READ MORE »

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