Eleitor 2010 used Ushahidi to enable citizens to help monitor Brazil’s October 2010 elections.
Posted by Manuella Maia R... on Jan 10, 2011
Eleitor 2010 (“Voter 2010”) is a platform that allowed citizens to help monitor Brazil’s October 2010 elections. The project used Ushahidi to document and map content submitted by citizens via email, Twitter and various social networks. [Note: Ushahidi also allows citizens to submit reports via SMS, but the Eleitor 2010 team was unable to implement this feature due to cost constraints.]
The coordinators of Eleitor 2010 are Paula Góes and Diego Casaes, both of Global Voices. Paula had the idea when she was a TV producer in the northeast of Brazil. The newsroom received numerous citizen reports about campaign irregularities, such as violence, vote buying and others, and they did not have the infrastructure needed to follow up every report.
The main objective of this platform is to collaboratively create a picture of the electoral process in accordance with the voters’ point of view. Eleitor 2010 is the first crowdsourced election monitoring project in Brazil, as well as the country’s first use of Ushahidi. The project received over 1200 reports during the October 2010 elections.
Diego: My name is Diego Casaes. I work with digital culture projects, transparency, and open data in São Paulo, Brazil, and I am also one of the cofounders of Eleitor 2010. Paula [Paula Góes, Global Voices’ Multi-Lingual Editor and cofounder of Eleitor 2010] told me about when she was a TV producer in the northeast of Brazil and, when the elections were coming, they received a lot of reports in the newsroom but didn’t have the infrastructure to follow up every report they received. I heard about Ushahidi and the various uses of this platform in the past year because many friends in Global Voices work with Ushahidi. Paula invited me to create this project in Brazil. It was born because we were a little tired of the elections in Brazil. We have a lot of irregular situations such as vote buying and violence in some parts of the country, and this platform is a chance to give a voice to what the people have to say.
Most of the reports we receive in Eleitor 2010 are about candidates who send unsolicited messages (spam) to their voters. The majority of reports we’ve received so far are about these kinds of cases. We also receive reports of people who are threatened by candidates in order to force them to vote for a specific person. For example, candidates force people to vote for them by threatening to remove them from the governments’ social programs. They can be serious reports, but we cannot verify all reports. I do not think that there is a report yet that has forced a candidate to drop out of the elections.
Diego: The big goal is to show people in Brazil that they can use the web for political participation. In the Brazilian elections we have a lot of interest in campaigns: people pay attention to politics through television, Internet, community, radio and more. We took advantage of that to launch the website.
Diego: Well, lots of people see the platform as a place where they can express their feelings about politicians who commit crimes and are not punished. They see Eleitor 2010 as a chance to speak out.
Paula: We are empowering people, one by one. First individuals, then groups, showing that together we are stronger. So far, I believe that the main impact on the average Brazilian is that people feel relieved to have an easy way to report the many electoral crimes that country is riddled with. These are the main elections in Brazil, and many people find it difficult to go to through the bureaucracy of reporting it to the official institutions. We have had very good feedback and the users are very supportive of the initiative. But it is still too early to assess the impact fairly, as we haven’t yet been able to document any cases of information being reported to Eleitor 2010, investigated by authorities, and resulting in punishment of those who are breaking the law.
Diego: I would say one of the main obstacles of the project and its success is civic engagement. Because although Brazil has 70 million people who use the Internet, people don’t use it for political participation. People want to change the political scenario of Brazil, to see a better political environment, but they sometimes lack action. We have a platform where anyone can participate and send a report, but we are not seeing as much participation as we would like because people see corruption and campaign crimes but don’t report them because they believe reporting won’t have any effect. So that is one of the main obstacles, because we have to create a new culture of people’s participation on the web. We have to convince them that they can voice their concerns and this is the chance to change our political scenario. This is very difficult.
We have some partnerships with Brazilian organizations who already work on promoting civic participation. One of these organizations is Voto Consciente (Conscientious Vote), a 20-year-old organization. They work to empower citizens to monitor politicians and to campaign for greater political participation. We are using their network of volunteers to spread the word about Eleitor 2010. Also, our team focuses on spreading the word in cyber cafés. These cafés are in every corner of the country, and it’s very inexpensive to access the Internet. We want to reach out to them so we can increase people’s participation in our project.
Paula: Unfortunately, it was not possible for us to verify every report, given our low budget and the fact that we had only one person working on moderation. We marked as verified reports that: a) had been reported by the authorities; b) had been investigated by the media; c) were sent by one of our trusted sources, namely our collaborators or individuals who work for anti-corruption organizations, in cases where they personally witnessed the events they reported; or d) photos or videos that were clearly genuine and not edited. We also marked as verified reports of online misinformation or irregularities where I could follow the steps provided and reproduce the issue reported. Some issues that had been reported by a large number of people (sometimes on Twitter) were also marked as verified. If verified, reports would display a green box at the top with the words Verificado? SIM (Verified? YES). If not verified, they would display a red box with Verificado? NÃO (Verified? NO).
Lack of financial support to build a dedicated team for the project and put into practice the many ideas we have to promote it is an obstacle. Our volunteer base is wonderful, but unfortunately everyone is already too busy to give Eleitor 2010 the time it needs.
We did not manage to offer the option for people to send SMS reports, which would be costly. We will skip this stage and concentrate on the social media and website reporting.
Another obstacle is lack of knowledge about the tool: this is all too new and, compared to the size of the Brazilian population, very few people know that it is available and easy to use. We have been promoting it the best we can and are trying to reach out to celebrities. [Brazilian director, writer, actor and TV host] Marcelo Tas has just recommended it on Twitter, and we hope that he will comment on his CQC program on TV too.
Reaching out to the offline community has also been challenging. Most people who know about the tool and use it are already heavy Internet users. We have started an email campaign and directed it to social movements, hoping that people would spread the word about the project.
Lack of presence in Orkut, the strongest social media for Brazilians, is also an obstacle. We didn’t manage to make it happen, although we did have some volunteers who promised to work on an application.
Diego: So far, they use our tool because it is one of the only online tools that exists that allows citizens to report on the elections. There are a lot of other online projects, but Eleitor 2010 is the only one where they can send a report about irregularities in the current political campaign.
Paula: Because they feel the urge to point out irregularities. Most people in Brazil want to have a corruption-free country, but they lack the tools to tackle this problem themselves. It is the right time for it: only through the Internet do people realize that they are not alone in the fight for clean elections. It is a kind of mobilization that makes everyone feel empowered to do something. Ficha Limpa [“Clean Record,” a law passed in June 2010 that prevents politicians who have committed serious crimes, such as misuse of public funds, corruption, murder and drug trafficking, from running in elections] was a great step towards democracy, and Eleitor 2010 is another little seed for the times to come.
Diego: Some candidates sympathize with the platform because it is a chance to reach out to their voters as well. But we have been threatened two or three times by candidates because they do not like the reports that have been sent about them in our platform. Some of those politicians are afraid of this tool. We always answer them that this is not a chance to fight with us or the voters, but it is a chance to start a dialogue with their voters. Instead of fighting against those candidates who threaten us, we reach out to them in order to give them the opportunity to also speak out and to clarify this report we received.
Diego: Global Voices supports us and is one of the main supporters, but it is institutional (not financial) support. We work with Comitê de Desenvolvimento da Internet — CDI (Development Committee of the Internet), Voto Consciente (Conscientious Vote) and many media partners too, such as Rede Brasil Atual (Brazil Current Network). We also work with a board of advisors that includes Brazilian journalists, development agencies that have a big influence in Brazil, professors from Brazilian universities and other digital actors. They help us in some cases. When we’re undecided about approving certain reports or not, we reach out to this board of advisors and ask them for advice: should it be approved, should it be published, should we mark it as verified, what we should do? So that’s the work of the advisers for the project, and they also help us to join other organizations or social movements. They act as a link to spread our influence.
How do the media use Eleitor 2010?
Paula: The media in general have been generous in promoting Eleitor 2010, and you can see a full collection of media mentions on our blog.
A couple of reports that appeared first on Eleitor 2010 have made it to the mainstream media: this column at O Globo stemmed from a blog post we wrote, which was based on a report we had received. Another report we received was followed up on by Estadao, although the credit only came later on.
Some of the Brazilian newspapers have been reported on Eleitor 2010 for allegedly working illegally to promote their own candidates and agenda. For example, one report accuses several newspapers of illegally publishing propaganda about gubernatorial candidate Fernando Collor.
I believe that not only these instances but all the others should be investigated thoroughly. Some of them are very well researched and with adequate supporting information that could lead to investigations.