How building data protection regimes can counter disinformation

Online disinformation and computational propaganda can have major effects, particularly in volatile political environments where public opinion can be shifted to a narrative pushed by a group with access to personal data from target populations. The power of online systems to shift elections or referenda is the lesson of many recent political campaigns in history. That reality has shown the importance of strong institutions, laws that are capable of shifting with ongoing technological and political innovation, and better corporate governance.

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Game Changer: Human-Centered Design for Democracy

DemGames for Debates was developed in partnership with NDI’s Citizen Participation, and Latin America and Caribbean teams.

As the Technology Innovation team at NDI, we are always looking for new approaches to build intuitive platforms that make an impact for our partners in their particular context. One of our recent pilot projects – DemGames – offers partner organizations an opportunity to engage youth on civic and voter education issues through an interactive learning platform. Last April, as we began to think of the many ways a gaming platform could contribute to a youth debates program in Guatemala, we decided to run a three-day design sprint, adapting a human-centered design approach, to develop a prototype we could begin to test. Here are some of the lessons we have learned.

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Cybersecurity in Ukraine: Deep Dives vs Broad Brush

Volodymyr Kaplun and Chris Doten opening conversation on emerging cybersecurity threats in Ukraine

The internet has never felt like a scarier place. Whether from sophisticated nation-state actors or freelancing hackers, democracy and human rights organizations face dangerous threats online. Despite the risks, civic and political players must be active in the digital arena with their country’s citizens to have an impact. NDI is working to help these organizations engage online and stay safe. Ukraine is in a dangerous digital neighborhood so political parties, civil society organizations and elected officials have a heightened need for cybersecurity.

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Sorting Truth from Truthiness in the Digital Age

Illustration by Jesper Frant

“Who you gonna believe” – as the comics say – “me, or your lyin’ eyes?” When it comes to politics, cognitive bias has always given citizens a strong push to believe “their side,” whatever the evidence to the contrary suggests. As disinformation swamps the internet, the problem has become much worse with lyin’ evidence that’s all too easy to believe. Increasingly, information is forged or manipulated. Convincing but fake, this disinformation fuels hyper-partisan hatred, bolsters conspiracy theories and undermines critical democratic institutions. But identifying disinformation is only one piece of the puzzle. What we need is a way to stop forged information entirely; a way to prove that content is original and legitimate.

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A Force Multiplier for Democracy in the Digital Age

A woman participates in voter card reader test exercise in Nigeria. Credit: Sarah Cooper

In countries and communities around the world, defenders of democracy are working to understand and respond to the ways that technology is impacting political and electoral processes. With every election or political event, democracy’s defenders are capturing new lessons on how democracy can weather evolving threats and even thrive in the digital age. Despite this growing body of projects and the commitment of local actors in countries around the world, responses to evolving digital challenges to date often lack coordination. But both globally and regionally, key democracy stakeholders haven’t had a proper channel for information-sharing, research coordination, and advancing shared priorities at the intersection of tech and democracy. So we’re building one, as a community.

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Citizen Centered: Designing technology solutions for democracy at NDI

It’s amazing what humanity can do with the right tools. If you’ve ever looked up the work of Marshall McLuhan, he talks about how even the basic things we create change our outlook on life, politics and society. He’s also often attributed to having said, "We shape our tools and, thereafter our tools shape us…". The light bulb, for example, changed what time of day we can commune with each other.

I have been developing and designing software for close to twenty years. Since joining NDI, I’ve been thinking about the tools we build and how those tools, in turn, shape the lives of beneficiaries around the world. Human-centered design is the process of designing technology with and around the humans who use it. This process is analogous to building a bridge to connect two worlds. Just like civil engineers, practitioners of human-centered design at NDI must connect technology to the needs of citizens.

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

Credit: Dave Taylor

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

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NDItech Goes to (Tech) Camp

NDI's Jesper Frant talks DemTools at TechCamp-Guatemala

The last few months, we here at NDItech – NDI's technology for democracy team – have had the great opportunity to talk civic innovation, transparency and accountability with dozens of civic groups, journalists and government officials through a set of TechCamps and PeaceTech Exchanges. These programs, put on by the State Department and PeaceTech Lab respectively, link technical experts with innovators across the globe to brainstorm, “pitch” and ultimately bring to life smart, contextualized tech solutions to pressing community problems. It’s been a pleasure for us (your bloggers) to be a part of these sessions, which we wanted to share a bit about with you all (our loyal readers).

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What makes some people more susceptible to disinformation?

New research is shedding light on why certain people are more susceptible to disinformation and what motivates individuals to choose to join hate campaigns. Photo credit: Dave Haygarth

Disinformation is one of the thorniest problems facing citizens online around the world today. Recent reports have highlighted that the problem is not only present, but indeed it is becoming more grave in the absence of proper solutions to combat it. While considerable thought and research have been dedicated to technological solutions, efforts at understanding the human mechanics of disinformation are still nascent. Exploring what demographics are most vulnerable or most likely to be targeted, why they are receptive to disinformation, and the mechanics of how disinformation spreads within their networks online and offline is key to finding effective solutions in the long term.

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Using Open Data to Verify Information in Elections

The Election Observation Group (ELOG) in Kenya used a unique data entry tool to match observer-captured images to official election documents

The August 2017 presidential election in Kenya was clouded by accusations of fraud and doubts about the accuracy of results posted on the Independent Elections and Boundary Committee (IEBC) website. Some groups alleged that information from the official polling-station-level presidential results forms (Form 34A) posted on the website may have been altered during the transmission of the forms from polling stations to the national level. The Kenyan Supreme Court’s ultimately annulled the August elections and called for a fresh presidential contest in October 2017. To promote accountability and transparency, NDI provided technical assistance to the Elections Observation Group (ELOG) to deploy 766 observers to polling stations across the country to systematically observe the fresh elections. Election observers were also instructed to take pictures of the completed Form 34As at their polling stations and send the images to the organization through designated WhatsApp numbers to verify the credibility of the data. Five-hundred and forty observers submitted clear photos of the Form 34As from the polling stations. With technical support from NDI, ELOG developed an online system to compare these forms with their official online counterpart.

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