It’s decision time. More than 30 countries are holding general elections in 2013 and technology is playing an increasingly important role in the process of casting votes. Whether it is e-voting, the software used to count votes or information technology which offers multiple platforms for the flow of information and communication about an election – it all affects people’s relationship to the democratic process.
In Italy, for example, the latest elections brought a party to power that was almost invisible in the national media. The Movimento5Stelle even refused to accept state funding for its election campaign; instead the party inhabited social media channels to garner support – successfully. In Kenya, on the other hand, technology has hampered the electoral process. Apparently the electronic vote counting failed to perform reliably and efficiently. Kenyan DLD speaker Juliana Rotich co-founded Ushahidi, the web-based reporting system that is used to crowdsource information, in the aftermath to outbreaks of violence in the 2008 elections. This year the Ushahidi community is active with two more, connected projects: Umati – which monitors social media channels for violent sentiments and Uchaguzi where the social media content is evaluated and reported accordingly to civil society organizations.
The Kenyan elections were also observed through the lens of technology by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). DLD spoke to Dr. Mark Graham, who is director of research at OII, focusing on Internet and information geographies, and the overlaps between ICTs and economic development. He created a map of tweets during the first televised presidential debate in Nairobi, which showed a distinct “geography of information” – meaning that you were able to see which part of the city was more or less involved in the debate. To collect geo-coded tweets is to aggregate all tweets which include geographic information in their meta-data. “Really the geo-coded tweets are sub-sets of a sub-set,” says Dr. Graham “roughly 1% of all tweets appear in this category.” The patterns that do appear still appear often don’t show anything new but are a proxy for researchers to ask new questions.