What do Chinese citizens think about democracy? Would they support political reform? And what might those reforms look like? To answer these kind questions, political scientists and policymakers have historically turned to polling. But polling is notoriously difficult in China. For one thing, China prohibits foreign polling organizations from directly surveying Chinese people. Alternatively, case studies can offer a valuable approach for gauging public preferences. But with a case studies approach, the sample size is necessarily small, and selecting truly representative cases can be challenging.
Big data analysis can offer another way to understand the public mood. Online social media has given us the largest repository of unsolicited public opinion in history. And Chinese citizens are a big piece of that equation. On Chinese social media, tens of millions of people will write a unique post in a given week.
Last year, a debate about enforcing China’s constitution (read: requiring that Communist Party elites are held accountable to the same legal standards as regular citizens) captured public attention. Using Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight platform, a big data analytics platform developed by the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences at Harvard University, we mapped the online discussion of constitutionalism for the duration of 2013.
ForSight has access to the full content stream of an enormous quantity of public internet data – including China’s most popular microblogging platform, Sina Weibo. Essentially, ForSight almost instantaneously downloads this data as soon as it is created and stores it. Because the great majority of censorship on Chinese social media is done manually (which takes a few minutes), this store of data also includes censored posts. READ MORE »
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 »
Last week, many of China’s major websites were inaccessible for nearly 24 hours to Chinese internet users. Chinese users trying to reach a range of websites ending in .com were re-routed instead to an IP address owned by Dynamic Internet Technology, which is the provider of the circumvention tool Freegate. DIT has been closely affiliated with the Falun Gong, a religious organization banned in China.
GreatFire.org, which examines Chinese censorship, has a detailed report investigating this outage, illuminating that all attempts within China to visit popular websites such as Sina Weibo, Baidu, etc. would be incorrectly re-routed to 188.8.131.52 (an IP address in Wyoming).
While state news agency Xinhua raised the possibility of hacking, and CNNIC attributed the breakdown to a "root server for top-level domain names", others blame the breakdown on a failure of the Great Firewall. As Chinese internet censorship expert Xiao Qiang states to Reuters, "It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks (in China). But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior."
Proper implementation of a DNS to match the domain name and the IP address of a website or web service is critical to ensuring that the Internet functions properly. As GreatFire points out, DNS poisoning, or hijacking of DNS routing to send a visitor to an incorrect domain name or IP address, is a technique deployed by the Great Firewall to render ‘blacklist’ websites inaccessible. READ MORE »
It is fascinating to see how the role of social media in political dissent is changing in front of our very eyes, this time in China. Sina Weibo, the wildly popular microblogging platform used by dissidents and activists, might be supplanted by other platforms like Weixin, a more private chat application that now has 270 million active users and is growing rapidly. Weibo, used by influential activists who have large reach to millions of others is also heavily censored and has been reported to have lost users.
Weibo has more than 600 million users, amounting to an astonishing 30% utilization by Internet users in China. There are more than 100 million messages posted on Weibo every day, making the platform a fertile ground for commentary on all matters. As a colleague on our Asia team recently said: "Online social media has given us the largest depository of unsolicited public opinion in human history. Now a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (not an unbiased outfit as it's backed by the Chinese government) reports that Weibo's user base is decreasing.
The report suggests that users are migrating to Weixin instead. Weixin is owned by Tencent Holdings, which, similar to Sino Weibo, also has close ties to the government. According to CNNIC, Weibo users dropped by 9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, Weixin or WeChat as it is known outside of China, added 64.4 million new users last year, especially among the younger demographics.
One reason for the shift may be the changing Chinese consumer behavior that is increasingly migrating from PCs to social networks optimized for smartphones, particularly among young people. Weixin saw a 1,201% increase in usage among youth in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Under the brand WeChat, the app is also far more global with a userbase of 100 million outside of China.
Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc. As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.
NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.
NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »
China leads the way when it comes to controlling online content. A push to counteract messaging that differs from “official” interpretation of events has spurred a wave of crackdowns that started in August, publically justified by the government as preventing the spread of online "rumors”.
Authorities have escalated their campaign against "cybercrime,” designed to prevent “hearsay” and “gossip” from spreading rapidly online, culminating in the arrests of hundreds of activists.
Prominent activist Murong Xuecun in a NYT op-ed stated that, “the vast state censorship apparatus works hard to keep us down. But posts race through Weibo so quickly that it’s difficult to control them with technology. Hence, the government is resorting to detainment.”
Chinese authorities utilize a number of methods for exorcising “bad” speech in its online communities. For over a decade, the government has been employing a task force to publish regime-friendly comments online in an effort to manipulate public opinion. This force has become known as the 50 Cent Army, which pays homage to the rumored 50 cents of Renminbi paid per comment (though in a rare moment of transparency, the government budgets have listed “Internet opinion analysts” as official occupations, most notable at the China Employment Training Technical Instruction Center). In 2012, real name registration came into effect -- requiring web users to register their given name and national identification name with provider sites before posting comments.
The “campaign against cybercrime” has reached new heights in targeting those “perpetrate rumours” in China’s online communities. This provision has paved the way for mass arrests of outspoken netizens across the country, including the Big V’s-- microbloggers known for online activism. An August 24th editorial stated that popular bloggers who “poison the online environment” should be “dealt with like rats scurrying across the street that everyone wants to kill.”
Arrests have also spread amongst China’s Uighur population. July and August were marked by a government movement against “religious extremist content on the internet” in the Xinjiang province. Fearing a militant, religious uprising, police arrested 139 people for spreading “jihadist” sentiments and posting religious content online, according to state-run media.
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 »
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 »
Early this summer, the Wall Street Journal published a widely-circulated article on the increasing restrictions to free speech online. South East Asia continues to be a region where internet freedom is under threat.
The most notable case is in Vietnam, where the draconian Decree 72 has been implemented. (More details on other restrictions in Vietnam can be found here). According to the decree, “[A] personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network. This page should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information.” This law has severe implications for any journalists, academics, and others who seek to share work accomplished by others. In addition, the decree requires all foreign websites to include at least one server in Vietnam, so that the data stored on those servers can be accessed by local authorities. READ MORE »
I’m recently back from Electech Afghanistan, an NDI-hosted elections and technology conference in Kabul. The event brought together senior officials from government, civil society, the private sector, and the international community to discuss applications of digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.
Ahead of the Presidential elections in April 2014, the Afghan public lacks confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election and this is diminishing participation and prospects for stability and democratic development. Afganistan is, of course, a supremely insecure environment with low rates of literacy throughout the population.
Participants identified ways that technology could improve participation and confidence by helping election authorities in administration, improving how political parties compete, increasing citizen’s participation, and enabling civil society organizations to observe more effectively, all while allowing journalists such as Pajhwok News to publicly share results and analysis. Discussion focused on the changing nature of political participation mediated by technology.
The cell phone represents the most radical transformation in communication technology for the masses since... well, who knows when. Mobiles are a BFD, and they’re everywhere. However, I’m sometimes surprised that international development professionals designing program plans don’t always recognize this new world. Based on the lived realities of citizens in their target countries, proposals for future work should always use current communication tools in their plans of reaching and working with their intended audiences.
On June 14, Iranians will head to the polls to cast their vote for the country’s next president. With a slew of candidates and a volatile political climate, social media is abuzz in the country. To track the trends of online conversation surrounding the elections, analysts at Small Media – a UK-based organization focused on technology research – have developed an Election Monitoring Series to explore social media for Iranian perspectives.
The second report in the series draws on data from Twitter, Facebook, and other sources collected between May 22 and May 27, following the candidates’ announcement on May 21 and leading up to the debate on May 31. In total, researchers found 14,464 tweets including the names of the eight Iranian presidential candidates. The most tweeted candidate, garnering 5,897 (40%) of the mentions, was Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator who is said to be very close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Following Jalili with 2,117 mentions was Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council who is closely affiliated with the news website Tabnak and focuses on economic issues. Hassan Rowhani, a Muslim cleric with centrist views and close ties to Iran’s ruling clerics, received 1,638 mentions, followed closely by Mohammad Gharazi and Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf. READ MORE »
The protests that began last week in Istanbul’s Taksim Square have spread throughout Turkey, gripping the country’s politics and garnering international attention. With the excessive force used by the Turkish police against protestors, what began as a small sit-in against the government’s plan to demolish Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park has become a large-scale anti-government protest movement spanning over 60 cities. Amid this widespread unrest, social media has become a battleground.
Since the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street demonstrated to the world that a new generation of popular movements had emerged, social media has become a focal point for organizing, supporting, and responding to popular movements. In Turkey, the role of social media has become paramount, particularly in the absence of traditional media coverage of the movement. READ MORE »
Facebook recently added a new feature that will send a password reset command to a set of pre-determined 'trusted friends." This feature is coming in handy already in closed societies and countries where activists under threat of arrest and facebook hacks. The feature allows a Facebook user to pre-determine a set of "trusted contacts" in the security settings. Once trusted contacts are set up, if a user has trouble accessing her account (such as in case of arrest or hack), she can call on these trusted contacts and receive a security code from them to regain access to the account. A user would need three security codes from trusted friends to regain access to the account which would, in theory, minimize any threats to those trusted friends by adversaries.
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 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 »
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 »
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. READ MORE »
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.
Times are changing in Burma. The by-elections in April resulted in the NLD winning 43 out of 44 contested seats, removal of the press restrictions that require journalists to submit articles to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department prior to publication, and the historic visit of President Obama to Myanmar (the first time a sitting president has visited the country).
Access to ICTs in Burma has historically been challenging. Throughout the country, there is low internet and mobile penetration. There were significant cost barriers to gaining access to basic technologies like sim cards (which can cost up to $900), and constant efforts to censor content and strike fear in activists through draconian telecommunications regulations.
This time of change has also reached the technology sector in Burma. The price of sim cards has dropped, the censorship of popular online news outlets such as the Irrawaddy and Mizzima News has been lifted, and use of Facebook has grown incredibly throughout the country. READ MORE »
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:
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.
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.
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
IIn Ghana's recent election NDItech partnered with the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), an independent Ghanaian NGO focused on election accountability. Our goal was to increase information to citizens about the election. CODEO ran a large monitoring program where 3999 citizen observers transmitted incidence and election results data via SMS to a central data center - a standard systematic election observation.
CODEO also used social media as part of a citizen communication campaign to voters via a Facebook page where political issues facung the country were actively debated, and a call-in service for radio stations to broadast voter information (listen to the audio below this post).
We spoke with NDItech's Program Officer Chris Doten about this innovative mobile audio-to-radio project.
Ghana has a robust technology infrastructure and a great NDI partner that was willing to try some new campaigns for this election and invited us to work with them. There also was a little bit of funding in place to do new media voter outreach, and we were able to run with it on a short time frame. Additionally, CODEO has a very good reputation in the country and we worked with them before in several previous election. The staff there is exceptional and was a pleasure to work with. READ MORE »
While creating a Facebook page or group may be easy, maintaining and gaining meaningful impact can be difficult. The folks at Social Media Exchange (SMEX) recently published "Creating Facebook Pages with Impact: A Guide for Arab Civil Society Organizations", which breaks down several important components of a successful Facebook-based campaign or initiative. The main audience for this guide is MENA region-based organizations (Arabic language guide is here), but there are several lessons that can be applied to other regions where Facebook is the most popular social media platform.
The topics include:
Get to Know Facebook & Get Inspired
Lay Your Foundation
Assemble Your Team
Pinpoint Your Destination & Identify Who Can Help You Get There
Plan and Produce Your Content
Develop Interaction Guidelines
Publish & Promote Your Page
Monitor Your Page Performance with Insights
Survey Your Success, Tweak, and Do It All Over Again
The ever-prolific Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, not surprisingly, found in its latest research that social media is ubiquitous - at least among the young and the wealthier in the 21 countries studied. Social networking online is spreading fast round the world, and not just in richer, Western countries.
It's not just about Gangnam style. Very usefully, Pew Global asks respondents about the content they share online and while music and movies are commonly shared, there is also significant content sharing and discussion about political issues. The survey notes: "Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world. For instance, in Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions."