Eurasia

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.

Update: Turkey's Internet Showdown

Protests against Turkey's new internet bill erupted in Istanbul on Feb. 8.

There is no shortage of news about Turkey in the press recently. Between Gezi park protests last summer, and a currently unfolding corruption case, Turkish democracy is a hot topic. Last week Freedom House released a special report on Turkey entitled “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey” with the central finding being that, “Turkey’s government is improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims, deepening the country’s political and social polarization.” READ MORE »

Social Media and Political Awareness Under Authoritarian Regimes

New Article Featured in the British Journal of Political Science Focuses on Social Media Under Authoritarian Regimes

How do people under authoritarian regimes become politically aware? Does social media influence political awareness? And does social media really help to undermine authoritarian regimes? These are the questions raised in an article in the British Journal of Political Science. Authors Ora John Reuter and David Szankonyi examine the role of social media and political awareness under authoritarian regimes and provide some fascinating analysis.

The authors led a survey of 1,600 adults conducted following the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections. Their study is particularly interesting because although social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are growing in ubiquity around the world, some non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China have heavily state influenced social media platforms such as vKontakte and Odnoklassniki in Russia. 

The authors reviewed the relevant literature across political science on the influence of social media on political awareness, noting an unsurprising muddle of contradictions. Much of the “disharmony” in the literature draws form the inability for any causal relationships between the use of social or “new media” and political change.  READ MORE »

Voto Mobile - Engaging and Polling Citizens with the Power of Voice

Voto - Mobile Engagement, Simplified

There is an election in a week,  you want to poll the citizenry before the election, and your financial resources are limited. What should you do? Should you (A.) Give up because it is simply not possible to get a full-fledged poll out in the field. (B.) Beg your donor to give you a last minute cash infusion to bring on more staff and a polling company. (C.) Join the 21st Century and leverage technology to generate a fully randomized national telephone poll using a platform like Voto Mobile. Voto Mobile's goal is to make interacting with an audience via mobile phones - either one-way via broadcast or two-way in an interactive fashion -- easy and inexpensive.

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to sit down twice with developers and staff from the socially conscious start-up Voto Mobile. Based out of Kumasi, Ghana, Voto Mobile has the straight-forward goal of “Mobile Engagement, Simplified.” The company is leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones around the world to enable both research and social engagement that offers CSOs, NGOs, Political Parties and other organizations new capabilities. READ MORE »

Taksim Square - A Social Media Battleground

Photo credit: The Telegraph, EPA

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 »

The Georgian Elections: Popular Perceptions of Leaders and Parties

Georgia

In Georgia, presidential elections are set to take place this October, generating new interest in the country’s changing political landscape.  NDItech has been engaged with our local partners in using tech to systematically monitor the election there. This will be the sixth presidential election in the country since the country’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and comes at a key time in the nation’s politics.  The elections will take place one year after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party was defeated in the parliamentary elections by the Georgian Dream party led by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who became the new prime minister.  This defeat represented a significant blow to President Saakashvili, who led the country’s pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003. A poll conducted by NDI provides some interesting insights into the nature of political opinions among Georgians. NDI conducts public opinion polling in numerous countries on political issues as part of our work. READ MORE »

It's Election Day in Georgia - Live Data Combined in New Ways

Georgia Election Portal

It's election day in a Georgia where a critical parliamentary election is under way.  Dubbed as "a litmus test of the way democracy works in Georgia" by NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, it is a also a test for election-related real-time data of incidents and results.  NDI has worked with three civil society partners in Georgia on an impressive election portal that records incidents at the polls, showcases historical data from prior elections dating back to 2008, and will be streaming live election data released by the Georgia election commission as soon as it is released.  

The Elections Portal is a joint initiative of non-governmental organizations and NDI, namely the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA) and Transparency International - Georgia (TI-Georgia).   Citizens can submit electronic reports about any electoral incident they experience via text messages or on the web, while ISFED is also deploying 1271 accredited and trained observers at precinct, district and central election commission levels who are reporting back to a data headquarters sample-based systematic observations. READ MORE »

Golos, Intrepid and Tech-Savvy Russian NDI Partner, Wins Sakharov Prize of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Golos' Interactive Map of Election Violations

Golos, a long-time partner of NDI in Russia, was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize of the Norwegian Helsinki Commission today. The Commission especially lauded Golos for its innovative work during the recent Russian legislative and presidential elections.  Golos, Russian for "The Voice", is the only independent election monitoring organization in Russia.  It has worked for over a decade on independent domestic election monitoring but became extremely popular during the recent Duma and then Presidential elections for its interactive map that allowed citizens to report violations during the election period and on election day.  These elections were marked by the savvy use of Russians of social media and camera phones to record and report election violations on YouTube and on Golos' map. 

The map became one of the 25 most-visited sites in Russa at the time, noted the Commission.  Shortly after launch, the site was removed from Gazety.ru where it had been published, Golos director was detained, and the organization was fined multiple times.  Golos was accused of collaborating with Western agents and a slander campaign was launched against the organization on state media.   

READ MORE »

Meme, the People

Nick Slaughter (or "Slotera Nika"), fictional mid-1990s candidate for Serbian president.

As anyone who has ever found their friends feed clogged up with pictures of Willy Wonka can attest, there's not much that spreads faster than an Internet meme. Apparently, however, the rapid transmission of dumb jokes can be utilized for more than just procrastination purposes. (Who knew?) 

We've talked a bit before about collective action problems and the uses of social media in making an idea go viral. However, there's also a lot to consider in terms of what makes a concept spread, peer-to-peer, among a given population; it's especially important in the process of democracy promotion, where the speedy and efficient diffusion of ideas is vital both to mobilize and to define a population. And, according to Merriam-Webster, a meme is defined as an "idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture."* All of which means that if you're interested in the business of spreading ideas and encouraging large-scale engagement, it's worth looking at what makes a meme take root among a given population and what we can learn about the fact that a given demographic has adopted it as its own.  READ MORE »

Raising the Bar

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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 »

ICT and the Russian Elections: Does the Internet Matter? Highlights from Internews Panel

Navalny - prominent Russian activist

This week I attended a panel discussion hosted by Internews on the role of the Internet in the Russian elections. The first part of the panel discussed the positive impact of the Internet, while the second offered a more sobering perspective and questioned its potential for effecting real change. Panelists included Maria Gaidar, Gregory Asmolov, Maria Snegovaya, and Matt Rojansky. Some of the highlights:

  • The Internet has been a useful tool for political organizing, crowdsourcing, and engagement, particularly during recent Russian crises. During the 2010 wildfires, Gregory Asmolov co-founded Help Map, an online crowdsourcing platform used to connect people in need of shelter, food, or clothing. Alexei Navalny mobilized Russian activists via Facebook to protest the government and eventually had 30,000 people on the streets. After the protest is over, however, there is a lack of organization and a strong sense of “what's next?” Institutions can maintain the momentum, providing the next steps to effect long-term social and political change. Golos is one of those institutions, having had an active role in election monitoring since 2002, and NDItech has developed more than a few crowdsourcing projects of our own.

READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 2: Barriers

Android Behind the Wire

Last time we considered how  incentives matter in crowdsourcing. This time we'll think about the barriers to participation.

So you've got people who have the incentive to assist in your big crowdsourcing project - great!

Unfortunately, there's a bunch of reasons why they might not do so, and if you don't think about things that stop your potential contributors, all the good will in the world won't get you the assistance you're looking for.

The most fundamental problem is simple knowledge. As the philosophers have put it, knowing is half the battle. If an individual doesn't have a clue that your system exists, they have absolutely no way to take part. This is one of the great challenges in places where vast swaths of the country are far from most advertising, much less a hashtag campaign on Twitter. A good example of effectively getting the word out was around Putin's romp to electoral victory. READ MORE »

Crowdsourcing is Hard Part 1: Incentives

Crowdsourcing Challenges Whiteboarding

The idea that everyone anywhere will contribute to your world-improving project is a powerful concept. The tantalizing vision of an army of unpaid enthusiasts doing all the work for you makes it sound like crowdsourcing will make your job easy, but successful execution of such a project has proven to be very hard.

I told you a bit about the long-term election observation work we are doing with ISFED, GYLA and TI in Georgia, and the fact that even their extensive networks won't have eyes and ears everywhere. Enter crowdsourcing. We're going to try to take the strengths of trained observer election monitoring and meld with crowdsourced citizen reporting to combine the best of both worlds.

The focus of my trip was to get this project rolling. We assembled the leadership of all three organizations together at a gorgeous hotel at the foot of the Caucuses, about two miles from the border with Chechnya. There's plenty of posts to be written about the excercise in cat-herding that is pulling together a partner coalition, but today I'm going to focus just on our discussion of how to integrate crowdsourcing. It made for an intense couple hours.

Crowdsourcing is the inverse Field of Dreams problem: if you build it, they may not come. There's a host of elements that need to be in alignment to pull off a successful crowdsourcing project, and technology is the least of your problems. Thanks to the clever folks at Ushahidi's CrowdMap project anyone can set up their own basic dots-on-a-map site in about 5 minutes. READ MORE »

Only Amateurs Steal Elections at the Ballot Box

Planning Election-Monitoring Programms in the Caucasus

I'm off in Georgia (no, not this one) working with an assortment of partners on the nation's upcoming Parliamentary elections, with a very important presidential poll a few months behind. It's a beautiful country with well-educated people, solid tech infrastructure, and awful grappa-like alcohol called chacha. It's come a very long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003, and is a relative democratic success story, but we still need to make sure no one puts a thumb on the scales in these upcoming elections.

NDI is assisting three big partners - the International Society for Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA), and Transparency International Georgia (TI-G). Collectively these trusted Georgian organizations have a tremendous experience in monitoring and are supported by nation-wide networks of committed volunteers and activists. They have successfully kept a wary eye on numerous big elections in the past, but NDI is finding that focusing on the vote itself isn't enough any more. READ MORE »

Regulating the Internet .BY Decree

Is Luka Watching You?

The recent announcement of a Belarusian law on aspects of Internet regulation certainly raised a number of alarm bells for many groups seeking to protect free expression online. Certainly, Belarus is no stranger to internet repression, ranging from pro-democracy websites repeatedly under attack, tracking down and arresting activists, and many other insidious acts. Given the extensive and differing coverage of the law in the press, here is a summary of what is expected to take place with this law.

In order to implement the norms stipulated by Decree of the Council of Ministers on February 1, 2010, No. 60 (which states that any entity in Belarus selling goods or services to Belarus citizens on the web must use the .by Belarusian domain name), Belarusian authorities have implemented Law No. 317-3. Fines for breaking the law range as high as 1m Belarus rubles (£77; $120).

NDItech is Hiring: Data for Democracy in Eurasia

Now Hiring. Enquire Within.

Skilled political organizer used to wrangling data? Russian speaker? Got tech? We're hiring.

The NDItech team is looking for someone to run a critical project in Eastern Europe for a period of approximately three months. The job: teaming with activist organizations who are learning to use online datastores and CRM systems to manage their information to win elections. They're savvy campaigners and used to tech, but the cloud will be new to them and comes with significant risks.

In addition to teaching how to take advantage of such systems safely you'll be helping these groups design field plans, advising on communications strategies and assisting with setting up training programs. Language skills are critical to ensure the ability to work side by side with our partners in these highly motivated activism and advocacy groups.

As our boots-on-the-ground operating out of an NDI field office you will have significant project input while being be supported by an expert team of tech, advocacy, and communications professionals. This is an excellent gig for a data and organizing ninja/rockstar/guru. You must be highly mobile, competent, and self-directed.

Check out the details then send any questions and your applications to nditech@ndi.org

Tech vs. the Many Tools of Control

A protester in Minsk

Belarus' people went to the polls December 19. It didn't go well, as Alexander Lukashenko's implausible 80% victory added to a string of really grim elections of late. The OSCE statement noted "observers assessing almost half of vote counts monitored as bad or very bad". NDI's partner organizations were on the ground, watching it - but their tech-enabled reporting system had been crippled.

A couple months back I traveled to the region to work with some of our Belarusian partners as they prepared to peacefully monitor the elections. One major component of the effort was using SMS to try to get numbers back as fast as possible for analysis. READ MORE »

Analyzing Data, Documenting Election Fraud

Maiden's Tower in Azerbaijian

November 7th was a bad day for worldwide democracy.

As Ian has discussed and partners on the ground have documented the military elections in Burma were a disaster. At the same time, Azerbaijian held parliamentary elections that "cannot be considered free and fair" as NDI's partner, the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS) found in their hard-hitting report. Violations included ballot box stuffing, multiple voting, not bothering to post final numbers, etc. EMDS was on the ground, documenting it all. EMDS monitors, observing at a statistically-selected sample of polling places, reported data into a central headquarters.

Using a web-based system to enter the information from each observer, coordinators were able to look for gaps, do on-the-fly analysis to flag anomalous results, and look at trends by district, time, or other criteria. The central database was built by local developers, and enabled EMDS to rapidly aggregate, process, and examine these observer reports. EMDS was able to rapidly report on the situation and call out the regime for their electoral abuse. READ MORE »

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