When considering the role of digital technologies in democracies, it is usually the topics of personal data, micro-targeting and voter profiling in political campaigns that dominate the discourse. How are candidates, parties and campaigners using the voters' digital footprints to target them with messaging and donation requests? How are they profiling and inferring voters’ interests and personalities to influence how them? Yet these discussion remain largely set in the context of North American and European elections, such as the innovations of the Obama campaign in 2008 and the role of communications and data firms in the Brexit referendum and the Trump 2016 campaign. At Tactical Tech’s Data and Politics project we seek to understand how these issues are reflected in countries and contexts that receive less international media attention and where information is less readily available. We know that the strategies, tactics and tools of digital election campaigning are widespread and it is important to raise this profile in order to have a more holistic and well-rounded understanding of these issues that affect democracies across the globe.
In Q3 of 2019, we launched an Open Call for Partnerships for our Data & Politics project aimed specifically at research organisations and experts based in the Global South or working on issues of technology and politics in those regions. By linking with regional partners we are able to better understand the role that personal data plays in the election process, how it is sourced, used and by whom while also exchanging knowledge about this international ecosystem of actors and strategies.
We like to take this space to highlight our partners and offer some insights into their work with us.
With its nearly 15 year history, CIPESA has championed the capacity building of policy makers in Eastern and Southern Africa to understand ICT policy issues as well using the power of ICT to improve governance and livelihoods. CIPESA has thematic focuses on online freedom, ICT for democracy and civic participation, open data and the right to information and internet governance.
In the run up to the forthcoming 2021 election, CIPESA is researching and analysing digital political advertising in Uganda, data sharing and brokerage agreements by ad exchanges and their interplay with voter and other national registers along with the inflated role that social media platforms play in political communications. Their forthcoming report will feature unique research and insights into the digital campaigning landscape in the country.
Over its 20+ year history, CDD-West Africa has been an independent non-profit critically reflecting on challenges to democratisation and development processes in West Africa with the goal of promoting sustainable democracy and development. Elections, their integrity of process and accountability as well as political campaigning and strategies have been a central focus for CDD-West Africa for many years. Among a number of high profile activities across many West African countries, the organisation has a proven technical know-how in using technologies to improve the process of election monitoring as well as educating and sensitising citizens to the opaque role of technologies in election processes.
In partnership with Tactical Tech, CDD-West Africa is translating Data & Politics materials into the Hausa language to improve its accessibility for Nigerians speaking that language and are researching and reporting on what digital tools and digital campaigning techniques have been used by political actors in Nigeria in the past. Furthermore, they are working on outreaching their gained knowledge among civil society and stakeholders in Nigeria.
Since 2015, the non-profit Datos Protegidos has been working to promote and improve the rights to privacy and data protection for Chileans. It does this through educational activities, organising public debates and working to influence the national and regional discussions on these topics. Dignity, equal rights and freedom of expression are core principles of the organisation. Datos Protegidos is looking to more deeply examine the specific digital campaigning techniques used by political candidates and campaigners in the run up to the 2020 elections in Chile, having already produced an in-depth analysis of the data-brokering landscape in Chile in a previous partnership with this project.
To help understand how personal data was being used in Ukraine’s 2019 elections, we partnered with Tetyana Bohdanova, an elections and civil society development specialist and a Fellow at the Prague Civil Society Centre who has an established history of working with NGOs across Eastern Europe and Eurasia.
Bohdanova investigated and documented cybersecurity lapses, campaign finance ambiguities, and legal loopholes in the country’s data protection regime and by doing so created one of the first studies of this type in the Ukrainian context.
The Fabulous Woman Network supports the growth of women in business in Kumasi, Ghana, through provision of a co-working and events space called Fab Hub Ashanti, as well as access to entrepreneurial skills development programs and networking opportunities. As a well regarded influencer, FWN provides civic education to women on pertinent issues affecting their lives and futures, including the role of democratic processes and what shapes them.
FWN outreached the work of the Data & Politics project by producing a video based on the content of the Personal Data: Political Influence report and A Voter’s Guide as part of an outreach series for its network. FWN hosted events with over 200 participants and included Tactical Tech’s resources, including physical copies of A Voter’s Guide. FMW and Ama Duncan also promoted and outreached the project’s work via their social media channels.
Casa Hacker is a non-profit hacker space dedicated to putting local communities in control of their digital experiences and shaping the future of information and communication technology for the public good. In an experienced, multidisciplinary collective and leader in technology and society, Casa Hacker develops social impact initiatives that empower people and transform communities.
The organisation engaged in a two-fold partnership with our project, which included outreaching and translating the Data & Politic project’s materials. To this end, Casa Hacker translated and added local context to A Voter’s Guide in Brazilian Portuguese as well as subtitled the visual gallery Personal Data: Political Persuasion - Inside the Influence Industry: What’s for sale? into the same language. Furthermore, Casa Hacker engaged in a far reaching social media campaign to outreach and share this content, including live-stream and pre-recorded information and discussion questions as well as online workshops.
Mada Masr is the leading independent online newspaper covering the fields of politics, economics, society, culture and lifestyle, in both Arabic and English. Mada Masr and Tactical Tech’s Data & Politics project are engaged in a translation and outreach partnership of the core materials related to how technologies are used in today’s data-driven election campaigns. With their reach, we hope together to help inform a wider audience in the Arabic speaking world, were data enhanced political campaigning is also making inroads.
We partnered with Open Development Cambodia in order to translate our Inside the Influence Industry guide into Khmer, which is spoken by around 16 million people across Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. ODC is a an independent and politically neutral NGO, specialising in aggregate data and developing interactive and accessible datasets and digital maps. Their aim is to make data and information easily available for informed discussion on development issues. Furthermore, they engage with a range of multidisciplinary stakeholders from a number of fields in order to highlight and discuss the role of data within the development sector.
The YMCA Computer Training Centre and Digital Studio, based out of Jokkolabs in Banjuli is an NGO which uses IT as an enabler within a number of core focus areas including ICT for development, ICT for eduction, Internet governance, digital security and youth entrepreneurship and engagement. As Outreach Partners, the YMCA is looking to use the Data & Politics materials in their own contexts in order to further the goals of their core focus areas by engaging with their audiences on this timely topic.
While much of 2020 has been overshadowed by the unprecedented events of the global Coronavirus pandemic, we would like to thank our partners for their patience and dedication to their partnerships with us. The topics that we are tackling together are of ever increasing importance in these turbulent times. We will be publishing updates to partnership outcomes in the future and provide links to new research and other materials.
Finally, we would like to thank our funding partners at SIDA for making these partnerships possible and for their continued confidence in us.