Tag Archives: elections

Crowdsourcing vs Putin: “Mapping Dots is a Disease on the Map of Russia”

I chose to focus my dissertation research on the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) during elections in repressive states. Why? Because the contentious relationship between state and society during elections is accentuated and the stakes are generally higher than periods in-between elections. To be sure, elections provide momentary opportunities for democratic change. Moreover, the impact of ICTs on competitive events such as contentious elections may be more observable than the impact on state-society relations during the regular calendar year.  In other words, the use of ICTs during election periods may shed some light on whether said technologies empower coercive regimes at the expense of civil society or vice versa.

This was certainly the case this past week in Russia as a result of the above crowdsourced election-violations map, which was used to monitor the country’s Parliamentary Elections. The map displays over 5,000 reports of election viola-tions that span the following categories:

While this map is not powered by the Ushahidi platform (contrary to this claim), the many similarities suggest that the project was inspired by the earlier nation-wide use of the Ushahidi platform in 2010, namely the Russia Fires Help Map. In fact, the major initiator of the Violations Map attended a presentation on Ushahidi and Help Map in Boston earlier this year.

The Elections-Violation Map was launched by Golos, the country’s only independent election monitoring organization and Gazeta.ru, Russia’s leading Internet newspaper. This promotional banner for the map was initially displayed on Gazeta.ru’s website but was subsequently taken down by the Editor in Chief who cited commercial reasons for the action: “Right now we have such a period that this advertisement place is needed for commercial advertisement. But we’re still partners with Golos.”

The deputy editor from Gazeta who had curated the map resigned in protest: “After it became evident that the Violation Map ‘no longer suited the leadership and the owners of the website’, [the deputy editor said,]  it would have been “cowardice” to continue the work. Despite Gazeta.ru’s withdrawal from the project, the Violation Map found another partner, “Slon.ru, a popular blog platform (~1 million unique visitors monthly).”

My colleague Alexey Sidorenko argues that the backlash against the Violations Map “induced the Streisand Effect, whereby any attempt to contain the spread of information results in the opposite reaction.” Indeed, as one Russian blogger tweeted: “Why are ‘United Russia’ representatives so short-sighted? It is evident that now half of the country will know about the Violation Map.” Needless to say, the Violations Map is one of the trending topics being discussed in Russia today (on election day).

As is well know, Golos is funded by both American and European organizations. Not surprisingly, Vladimir Putin is not a fan of Golos, as recently quoted in the Washington Post:

“Representatives of some states are organizing meetings with those who receive money from them, the so-called grant recipients, briefing them on how to ‘work’ in order to influence the course of the election campaign in our country,” Putin said.

“As the saying goes, it’s money down the drain,” he added. “First, because Judas is not the most respected of biblical characters among our people. And, second, they would do better to use that money to redeem their national debt and stop pursuing their costly and ineffective foreign policy.”

As expected by many, hackers took down the Golos website along with the Election-Violations Map. (The Sudanese government did the same last year when independent Sudanese civil society groups used the Ushahidi platform to monitor the country’s first presidential elections in two decades). Incidentally, Slon.ru seems to have evaded the take-down. In any case, the blocking of websites is just one very easy tactic available to hackers and repressive regimes. Take this other tactic, for example:

According to a Russian-speaking colleague of mine (who also pointed me to this pro-Kremlin activist video), the woman says that “mapping dots is a disease on the map of Russia.” The video shows her calling the Map’s dedicated number to report a false message (she gives a location that doesn’t exist) and subsequently fills out a false report online. In other words, this is an instructional video on how to submit false information to a crowdsourcing platform. A fully translated transcript of the video is available here.

This same colleague informed me that one of Russia’s State Television Channels subsequently broadcast a program in which it accused those behind the Violations Map of making false claims about the falsification of reports, accusing the “Maptivists” of using an American tool in efforts against the Russian ruling party. In addition, the head of Russia’s Election Committee submitted a complaint against the map to the court, which resulted in the organizers receiving a $1,000 fine (30,0000 Rubles).

Gregory Asmolov, a PhD student at LSE, argues that the Russian government’s nervous reaction to the crowdsourced map and its attempt to delegitimize and limit its presence in cyberspace is clear proof of the project’s impact. Gregory goes on to write that the crowdsourced map is an interim product, not a finished product, which serves as a diagnostic system in which individuals are the sensors. He also argues that crowdsourcing mirrors the reliability of society and thus claims that if there is low confidence in the reliability of crowdsourced information, this is a diagnosis of society and not the crowdsourcing tool itself.

Alexey Sidorenko concludes with the following: “The Violation Map incident is just an indicator of a much deeper trend – the growing will for the need of change, exercised by free, non-falsified elections. In previous election cycles, most journalists would not have resigned and no big portal would have been brave enough to advertise election violation monitoring. Aside from the deeper sociological undercurrent, technology plays a crucial role in all presented stories. […] none of these events would actually have happened if Golos and Gazeta.ru had not united in producing the Violation Map. Golos has had an election violation database since 2008, but it never was as influential as it is now. This suggests the success of the project relies heavily on its online mapping element (if any event gets concrete geographic coordinates it automatically gets more real and more appealing) and having a proper media partner.”

My dissertation research asked the following question: Do New ICTs Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive States and Civil Society? In the case of Russia’s Parliamentary Elections, it would seem so. So my next question is this: If Help Map inspired this week’s Election Violations Map, then what will the latter inspire now that many more have been exposed to the power of crowdsourcing and live maps? Stay tuned for the next round of Crowdsourcing vs. Putin.

How Egyptian Activists Kept Their Ushahidi Project Alive Under Mubarak

This is my second blog post on the U-Shahid project in Egypt. The first one analyzed 2,000+ reports mapped on the Ushahidi platform during the country’s recent Parliamentary Elections. Egypt is one of my dissertation case studies and in this blog post I summarize some initial findings based on a series of interviews I had several Egyptian activists who were part of the U-Shahid project.

The Egyptian government began asking questions about U-Shahid well before the project was even launched. They found out about the project by tapping phone lines and emails. Once the project was launched, the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior continued to shadow the project in several ways. They requested copies of all meeting agendas and a list of names for everyone who was trained on the Ushahidi platform, for example.

In order to remain operational, the Egyptian activists spearheading the U-Shahid project said that they “stressed the technical aspect of the project, and remained fully open and transparent about our work. We gave Egyptian National Security a dedicated username and password [to access the Ushahidi platform], one that we could control and monitor [their actions]. This gave them a false sense of control, we could restore anything they deleted.” That said, one activist recounted how “there were attempts by the government to overload our website with many fake reports […] but we were on it and we were able to delete them. This happened a minute or two every three hours or so, attacks, overload, but eventually they gave up.”

When asked why the regime had not shut down the platform given the potential threat that U-Shahid represented, one blogger explained that “many of the activists who began using Ushahidi had many followers on Facebook and Twitter, they also had the attention of the international media, which could create unwanted attention on the regime’s actions.” This same blogger also noted that many of the activists who collaborated on the U-Shahid project were “connected with people in the US Congress, directors of international human rights NGOs, and so on.” Perhaps the Mubarak Regime was concerned that cracking down on the U-Shahid project would backfire.

In any case, the activists “did a lot of scenario building, considered many ‘what if’ situations. The fact that we were so well prepared is why they [the regime] could not touch us. We tried to connect all the data on Facebook and Twitter so that if they closed our Ushahidi map, we would move to a new domain name and let all our followers know. We also had a large database of SMS numbers, which would allow us to text our followers with information on the new website. Finally, we had a fully trained team in Lebanon ready to take over the project if we were completely shut down.”

“We were well prepared,” added another blogger, “we knew they could not arrest all of us on the day of the election, and just in case, we trained a group in Lebanon who could take over all operations if we were stopped.” According to one activist, “using this mapping technology provided a way to collect and recruit a lot of activists, and not just any activists, but more effective ones. This actually created a headache for the regime because a growing number of digital activists became interested in using the Ushahidi platform.” Another interviewee added that the technology acted as a “magnet” for activists. One activist also remarked that “they [the government] don’t understand how we work; we can learn very fast but the government has many rules and processes, they have to write up reports, submit them for approval, and allocate funding to acquire technology. But for us, we don’t need permission. If we want to use Tor, we simply use Tor.”

Another explained that their project’s credibility came from the realization by many that they were simply focused on “getting the facts out without agenda. We were both transparent and moderate, with no political or party affiliation, and we emphasized that our goal was to try and make the election process transparent.” In sum, said another activist, “we let people decide for themselves whether the content mapped on Ushahidi was good or not.” Another activist argued that the use of the Ushahidi platform “created more transparency around the elections, allowing easier access than in any previous election.” More specifically, “in previous elections and before the existence of Ushahidi, many NGOs made reports of election irregularities, but these were rarely shared publicly with policy maker or even with other NGOs. And even after the elections had taken place, it was very difficult to access these repots. But the Ushahidi [platform] is open and online, allowing anyone to access any of the information mapped in near real-time.”

Still it is really challenging to fully assess the potential political impact (if any) the U-Shahid project had–something the activists are very aware of. One can only investigate so much for so long. One activist noted that “next time we use the Ushahidi platform, this year for the presidential elections, we will be sure to track the reports submitted to the judicial courts and compare them with those we collect. We also plan to better advertise our project with lawyers and political candidates so that they can use our reports including videos and photos in court and for trials.”

What I’m particularly pleased about in addition all the learning that has taken place is the fact that the U-Shahid project spawned off a number of *copy cats during the elections and new maps are being launched almost every other month in Egypt now. The project also increased the number of Egyptian who participated in directly monitoring their own elections. Lastly, I’m excited that the Egyptians who spearheaded the U-Shahid project are now training activists in Tunisia and other Arab countries. They have acquired a wealth of practical knowledge and experience in using the platform in authoritarian environments, and now they’re sharing all this hard-won expertise.

There’s a lot more to share from the interviews, and I hope to do so in future posts. I also plan to blog about the findings from my case study of the Sudan.

 

Analyzing U-Shahid’s Election Monitoring Reports from Egypt

I’m excited to be nearing the completion of my dissertation research. As regular iRevolution readers will know, the second part of my dissertation is a qualitative and comparative analysis of the use of the Ushahidi platform in both Egypt and the Sudan. As part of this research, I am carrying out some content analysis of the reports mapped on U-Shahid and SudanVoteMonitor. The purpose of this blog post is to share my preliminary analysis of the 2,700 election monitoring reports published on U-Shahid during Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections in November & December 2010.

All of U-Shahid‘s reports are available in this Excel file. The reports were originally submitted in Arabic, so I’ve had them translated into English for my research. While I’ve spent a few hours combing through these reports, I’m sure that I didn’t pick up on all the interesting ones, so if any iRev readers do go through the data, I’d super grateful if you could let me know about any other interesting tid-bits you uncover.

Before I get to the content analysis, I should note that the Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC)—the Egyptian group based in Cairo that launched the U-Shahid project—used both crowdsourcing and “blogger-sourcing.” That is, the group trained some 130 bloggers and activists in five key cities around Egypt to monitor the elections and report their observations in real-time on the live map they set up. For the crowdsourced reports, DISC worked with a seasoned journalist from Thomson-Reuters to set up verification guidelines that allowed them to validate the vast majority of such reports.

My content analysis of the reports focused primarily on those that seemed to shed the most transparency on the elections and electoral campaigns. To this end, the analysis sought to pick up any trends or recurring patterns in the U-Shahid reports. The topics most frequently addressed in the reports included bribes for buying off votes, police closing off roads leading to polling centers, the destruction and falsification of election ballets, evidence of violence in specific locations, the closing of polling centers before the official time and blocking local election observers from entering polling centers.

What is perhaps most striking about the reports, however, are how specific they are and not only in terms of location, e.g., polling center. For example, reports that document the buying of votes often include the amount paid for the vote. This figure varied from 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $3) to 300 Egyptian Pounds (around $50). As to be expected, perhaps, the price increased through the election period, with one report citing that the bribe price at one location had gone from 40 Pounds to 100 over night.

Another report submitted on December 5, 2010 was even more specific: “Buying out votes in Al Manshiaya Province as following: 7:30[am] price of voter was 100 pound […]. At 12[pm] the price of voter was 250 pound, at 3 pm the price was 200 pound, at 5 pm the price was 300 pound for half an hour, and at 6 pm the price was 30 pound.” Another report revealed “bribe-fixing” by noting that votes ranged from 100-150 Pounds as a result of a “coalition between delegates to reduce the price in Ghirbal, Alexandria.” Other reports documented non-financial bribes, including mobile phones, food, gas and even “sex stimulators”, “Viagra” and “Tramadol tablets”.

Additional incidents mapped on the Ushahidi platform included reports of deliberate power cuts to prevent people from voting. As a result, one voter complained in “Al Saaida Zaniab election center: we could not find my name in voters lists, despite I voted in the same committee. Nobody helped to find my name on list because the electricity cut out.” In general, voters also complained about the lack of phosphoric ink for voting and the fact that they were not asked for their IDs to vote.

Reports also documented harassment and violence by thugs, often against Muslim Brotherhood candidates, the use of Quran verses in election speeches and the use of mini buses at polling centers to bus in people from the National Party. For example, one reported noted that “Oil Minister Samir Fahmy who is National nominee for Al Nassr City for Peoples Council uses his power to mobilize employees to vote for him. The employees used the companies buses carrying the nominee’ pictures to go to the election centers.” Several hundred reports included pictures and videos, some clearly documenting obvious election fraud. In contrast, however, there were also several reports that documented calm, “everything is ok” around certain voting centers.

In a future blog post, I’ll share the main findings from my interviews with the key Egyptian activists who were behind the U-Shahid project. In the meantime, if you choose to look through the election monitoring reports, please do let me know if you find anything else of interest, thank you!

Quick, Stop All Ushahidi Deployments in Egypt!

Has the world gone crazy? There are now at least five Ushahidi deployments in Egypt. Somebody stop this proliferation before things really gets out of control. This is ridiculous, who knows what could happen!

Oh how I long for the days of  expensive, proprietary software that prevented the widespread use of commercial platforms by the unwashed masses. Life was good back then, and simple. Only external organizations with millions of dollars of funding could monitor elections. Centralized, top-down hierarchical control was such a blessing. You’d think that those using Ushahidi in Egypt would at least make their deployments password protected. But no, they have the nerve to share their data publicly. The nerve.

Someone please force these groups to use one (and only one) platform and to use a password. In fact, people should be required to apply for permission to use an Ushahidi platform by completing a 10-page form, providing 5 references along with a financial statement for the past 3 years. They should also sign a binding contract that obliges them not to share any data publicly. The golden rule should be one platform per country per year. All this needs to be controlled. Seriously, don’t people understand the consequences of democratizing tools for trans-parency and accountability?

Just look at what’s happening in Eygpt. Ushahidi was never used in the country before the lead up to the country’s Parliamentary Elections. But now, because the platform is both free and open source, no fewer than 5 different groups have decided to add more transparency to the elections. How irresponsible is that? I mean, this is only going to give people more ideas on how to hold their government accountable in the future.

Indeed, there may end up being twice as many platforms during the Presidential Elections next year as a result. And then what? This will just make each platform weaker since the data will be split across platforms. (Down with open data!). Don’t people understand that they can’t just do whatever they want? (Down with more choices!). Doesn’t anyone care about our rules anymore? The masses need to listen to us and do as we say. Oh how I do miss the good old days. Sigh.

This careless proliferation of Ushahidi platforms in Egypt will only add more data (down with more data!), which means even more monitoring of the government’s actions during the elections (down with transparency!). The first Ushahidi platform that was launched already has 351 mapped reports and the other four platforms have already mapped a total of 461 reports. This is terrible. The additional data means that triangulating some reports may be possible, either manually or by using Swift River.

This needless proliferation also means that many more issues will be monitored. At least the first Ushahidi platform that was launched didn’t have a specific category on women. But the platform launched by the Independent Coalition for Election Observation includes a category on women. And that platform is only in Arabic! Don’t people understand that election monitoring is supposed to be for English-speaking outsiders, i.e., the West?

It gets worse. The Muslim Brotherhood is also using the platform to create more transparency around the elections. As the screenshot below reveals, they even have the audacity to monitor and map assaults on journalists, observers and human rights organizations. This is worse than blogging. But don’t get me started on blogs. The fact that anyone can blog is a travesty and an assault on everything we hold holly. The printing press? Don’t even go there.

Crisis Mapper Anahi Ayala Iacucci clearly disagrees with me in her blog post on this topic. She writes that the whole point of Ushahidi is “to make it available to everybody to be able to have their voices heard, to allow for sharing of information. If people have some doubts please read the Ushahidi website: ‘Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.'”

Again, has the world gone crazy? My ultimate nightmare, however, are APIs and RSS feeds. These allow data from different Ushahidi platforms to be easily shared. Just look at the screenshot below and you’ll understand my concerns. I was able to create one list of all reports simply by cutting and pasting the five website links into my Google Reader. This link will take you to a public website with one list of integrated reports from all five platforms updated in real-time. If you’d like to add this to your own Google Reader, use this Atom Feed.

And if this isn’t disturbing enough, people can actually subscribe to automated email alerts of incoming reports based on specific areas of interest. I also hear a rumor that each Ushahidi platform comes with a unique key and that swapping keys allows for the automatic sharing of data between two or more Ushahidi platforms. Networked Ushahidi platforms. The nerve. Maybe the Egyptian government will be able to crack down on these platforms and curb this proliferation of transparency. After all, the US government has already invested billions of dollars to keep this repressive regime in power.

Mapping Election Fraud in Afghanistan

My colleague Nils Weidmann recently moved to Princeton to start his post-doc with the Empirical Studies of Conflict group. Nils is always up to something interesting. His latest research project focused on mapping election fraud in Afghanistan.

Nils analyzed voter turn-out at voting stations using Beber and Scacco’s last digit method, which was used to analyze the Iran elections earlier this year. The method is very straightforward. In a free and fair election, the last digits (numbers “0” through “9”) for voting station turn-out should occur in equal frequency, i.e., should be “random.” Any non-randomness in this distribution may thus indicator manipulation.

For example,  the distribution below for Helmand province is clearly not random since the digit “0” occurs far more frequently than the other digits.

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Provinces with non-random distribution of last digits for voting stations can then be mapped.

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As Nils points out, “despite the fact that the certified results contain almost no suspicious stations anymore, evidence of manipulation remains for four provinces.” See map below.

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Nils also produced spatial distribution maps for polling stations that had a higher number than the 600 voter count allocated and maps for polling stations with an overly high vote shares for one candidate.

It would be great to super impose all the maps that Nils produced in order to compose a vote fraud probability index. I’d also be curious to know how projects by GeoCommons and Alive in Afghanistan might contribute to the research that Nils is pursuing, and vice versa.

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Patrick Philippe Meier

Twitter vs. Tyrants: Ushahidi and Data Verification

My colleague Chris Doten asked me to suggest panelists for this congressional briefing on the role of new media in authoritarian states. I blogged about the opening remarks of each panelist here. But the key issues really came to fore during the Q/A session.

These issues addressed Ushahidi, data validation, security and education. This blog post addresses the issues raised around Ushahid and data validation. The text below includes my concerns with respect to a number of comments and assumptions made by some of the panelists.

Nathan Freitas (NYU):

  • It’s [Ushahidi] a crisis-mapping platform that  has grown out of the movement in Africa after the Kenyan elections.  It’s akin  to a blog system, but for mapping crisis, and what’s unique about it is it allows you to capture unverified and verified information.

Me: Many thanks to Nathan for referencing Ushahidi in the Congressional Briefing. Nathan’s comments are spot on. One of the unique features of Ushahidi is that the platform allows for the collection of both unverified and verified information.

But what’s the difference between these two types of information in the first place? In general, unverified information simply means information reported by “unknown sources” whereas verified tends to be associated with known sources of reporting, such as official election monitors.

The first and most important point to understand is that both approaches to information collection are compatible and complementary. Official election monitors, like professional journalists, cannot be everywhere at the same time. The “crowd” in crowdsourcing, on the other hand, has a comparative advantage in this respect (see supporting *empirical evidence here).

Clearly, the crowd has many more eyes and ears than any official monitoring network ever will. So discounting any and all information originating from the crowd is hard to justify. One would have to entirely dismiss the added value of all the Tweets, photos and YouTube footage generated by the “crowd” during the post-election violence in Iran.

  • And what’s interesting, I think we’ve seen the first round, the 1.0 of a lot of  this election monitoring.  As these systems come in place, they’ll be running  all the time, and they’ll be used in local elections and in state-level  elections, and the movement for – these tools will be easier, just like blogs.   Everyone blogs; in a few years, everyone’s got their own crisis-mapping  platform.

Me: What a great comment and indeed one of Ushahidi’s goals: for everyone to have their own crisis mapping platform in the near future. That’s what I call an iRevolution. Nathan’s point about the first round of these systems is also really important. The first version of the Ushahidi platform only became downloadable in May of this year; that’s just 5 months ago. We’re just getting started.

Daniel Calingaert (Freedom House):

  • [T]here’s a very critical component […] often  overlooked in these kinds of programs:  The information needs to be verified. It is useless or even counterproductive to simply be passing around rumors, and  rumor-mongering is very big in elections, and especially Election Day.

Me: Daniel certainly makes an important point although I personally don’t think that the need for verification is often overlooked in election monitoring. In any case, one should note that  rumors themselves need to be monitored and documented pre, during and post-elections. To be sure, if the information collection protocol is too narrow (say using only official monitors are allowed to submit evidence), then rumors (and other important information) may simply be dismissed and go unreported even though they could fuel conflict.

  • So it’s  important as part of the structure that you have qualified people to sort through the information and call what is credible reporting from citizens from very unsubstantiated information.

Me: Honestly, I’m always a little weary when I read comments along the lines of “you need to have qualified people” or “only experts should carry out the task.” Why? Because they tend to dismiss the added value that hundreds of bystanders can bring to the table. As Chris Spence noted about their operations in Moldova, NDI’s main partner organization “was harassed and kicked out of the country” while “the NDI program [was] largely shut down.” So who’s left to monitor? Exactly.

As my colleague Ory Okolloh recently noted, “Kenya had thousands election observers including many NDI monitors.” So what happened? “When it came to sharing their data as far as their observations at the polling everyone balked especially the EU and IRI because it was too “political”. IRI actually released their data almost 8 months later and yet they were supposed to be the filter.”

And so, Okolloh adds, “At a time when some corroboration could have prevented bloodshed, the ‘professionals’ were nowhere to be seen, so if we are talking about verification, legitimacy, and so on … lets start there.”

Chris Spence (NDI):

  • Monitoring groups – and this kind of gets to the threshold questions about Ushahidi and some of the platforms where you’re getting a lot of interesting  information from citizens, but at the end of the day, you’ve really got to  decide, have thresholds been reached which call into question the legitimacy of  the process?  And that’s really the political question that election observers and the groups that we work with have to grapple with.

Me: An interesting comment from NDI but one that perplexes me. I don’t recall users of Ushahidi suggesting that they should be the sole source of information to qualify for threshold points. Again, the most important point to understand is that different approaches to information collection can complement each other in important ways. We need to think less in linear terms and more in terms of information ecosystems with various ecologies of information sources.

  • And there’s so much involved in that methodology that one of the concerns about  the crisis mapping or the crowdsourcing [sic] is that the public can then draw interpretations about the outcome of elections without necessarily having the  filter required.  You know, you can look at a map of some city and see four or  five or 10 or several violations of election law reported by citizens who – you  know, you have to deal with the verification problem – but is that significant in the big picture?

Me: Ok, first of all, lets not confuse “crisis mapping” and “crowdsourcing” or use the terms interchangeably. Second, individuals for the large part are not thick. The maps can clearly state that the information represented is unfiltered and unverified, hence may be misleading. Third (apologies for repeating myself), none of the groups using Ushahidi claim that the data collected is representative of the bigger picture. This gets to the issue of significance.

And fourth, (more repeating), no one I know has suggested we go with once information feed, i.e., one source of information. I’m rather surprised that Chris Spence never brings up the importance of triangulation even though he acknowledges in his opening remarks that there are projects (like Swift River) that are specifically based on triangulation mechanisms to validate crowdsourced information.

Crowdsourced information can be an important repository for triangulation. The more crowdsourced information we have, the more self-triangulation is possible and the more this data can be used as a control mechanism for officially collected information.

Yes, there are issues around verification of data and an Ushahidi powered map may not be random enough for statistical accuracy but, as my colleague Ory Okolloh notes, “the data can point to areas/issues that need further investigation, especially in real-time.”

  • [I]t’s really important that, as these tools get better –  and we like the tools; Ushahidi and the other platforms are great – but we need  to make a distinction between what can be expected out of a professional  monitoring exercise and what can be drawn from unsolicited inputs from  citizens.  And I think there are good things that can be taken from both.

Me: Excellent, I couldn’t agree more. How about organizing a full-day workshop or barcamp on the role of new technologies in contemporary election monitoring? I think this would provide an ideal opportunity to hash out the important points raised by Nathan, Daniel and Chris.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Ushahidi Comes to India for the Elections (Updated)

I’m very please to announce that the Ushahidi platform has been deployed at VoteReport.in to crowdsource the monitoring of India’s upcoming elections. The roll out followed our preferred model: an amazing group of Indian partners took the initiative to drive the project forward and are doing a superb job. I’m learning a lot from their strategic thinking.

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We’re also excited about developing Swift River as part of VoteReport India to apply a crowdsourcing approach to filter the incoming information for accuracy. This is of course all experimental and we’ll be learning a lot in the process. For a visual introduction to Swift River, please see Erik Hersman’s recent video documentary on our conversations on Swift River, which we had a few weeks ago in Orlando.

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As per our latest Ushahidi deployments, VoteReport users can report on the Indian elections by email, SMS, Tweet or by submitting an incident directly online at VoteReport. Users can also subscribe to email alerts—a functionality I’m particularly excited about as this closes the crowdsourcing to crowdfeeding feedback loop; so I’m hoping we can also add SMS alerts, funding permitted. For more on crowdfeeding, please see my previous post on “Ushahidi: From Crowdsourcing to Crowdfeeding.

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You can read more about the project here and about the core team here. It really is an honor to be a part of this amazing group. We also have an official VoteReport blog here. I also highly recommend reading Gaurav Mishra‘s blog post on VoteReport here and Ushahidi’s here.

Next Steps

  • We’re thinking of using a different color to depict “All Categories” since red has cognitive connotations of violence and we don’t want this to be the first impression given by the map.
  • I’m hoping we can add a “download feature” that will allow users to directly download the VoteReport data as a CSV file and as a KML Google Earth Layer. The latter will allow users to dynamically visualize VoteReports over space and time just like [I did here] with the Ushahidi data during the Kenyan elections.
  • We’re also hoping to add a feature that asks those submitting incidents to check-off that the information they submit is true. The motivation behind this is inspired from recent lessons learned in behavioral economics as explained in my blog post on “Crowdsourcing Honesty.

Patrick Philippe Meier