Many of the programs at NDI explore how democracy can both thrive or weaken in the online space, as the internet grows to include all aspects of life, including political systems, society and culture. NDI has been working to develop tools, methodologies, networks and guidance for online election monitoring, civic technology, and a host of other subjects relating to social media and information integrity. One of the tools we gained access to is Crowdtangle, a system owned by Facebook which enables the examination of content, interaction, trends and other data on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter. In the past year, NDI has been increasingly using Crowdtangle’s dashboard and export functions to expand its political analysis and understanding in key country contexts. While we also use other methods to understand the online space, the Crowdtangle tool provides a unique window.
By using Crowdtangle to create more in-depth contextual knowledge of the information environment to empower our local partners, we are deepening our programmatic work regarding the process of elections and the transference of governing power, as well as other elements, such as political movements, authoritarian pushback, gendered disinformation, protests, as well as themes such as COVID-19, conflict and online hate speech. They all reflect the democratic process in different ways online. With the Democracy Dashboard created using Crowdtangle, NDI will examine four critical democratic contexts around the world, including Hong Kong, Kosovo, Moldova and Poland, to illustrate both the trends within them and the overlying processes of governance, electoral systems and other aspects of political systems.
Prior to using Crowdtangle, NDI had found frequent false or hyperbolic narratives related to COVID-19 in its manual media monitoring, and therefore developed a starting lexicon to monitor further developments in Albanian and Serbian languages. Some common narratives NDI identified, which we would expect to continue, are conspiracy theories related to a potential vaccine and the origin of the virus and treatment. Other articles and posts also spread false information on research findings on the effective tests, quarantine lockdowns, and predictions of the virus’s end. Some mirror false information spread in western Europe or around the world; some are more specific to the Kosovo and western Balkan political context. NDI will use this information to raise awareness among partners, such as local journalists, CSOs, and political parties, about their roles and responsibilities in ensuring a healthy information environment in the country.
Through its programs on gendered disinformation, NDI has observed a significant amount of online violence against women in politics (VAW-P) and gendered disinformation against women in political/public life, and is developing research to examine the use of gendered hate speech and disinformation online in Poland. Sometimes these dovetail with attacks against a woman's political party, but use gendered insults or language, combining personal attacks with political motivations.In Poland, NDI has developed gendered lexicons of hate speech and political network maps to track how online VAW-P and gendered disinformation moves through online political discourse.
- Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, NDI is monitoring the shifting political landscape after the sudden promulgation of the National Security Law (NSL) on June 30, 2020, which significantly limits the ability of Hong Kong citizens to exercise their freedom of speech and assembly rights, both in-person and online. The team seeks to identify sources of disinformation, misinformation, hate speech and amplification of anti-democratic narratives surrounding the electoral environment in the lead-up to the September 2021 Legislative Council elections — postponed from September 2020 — and aftermath of the NSL. The data-driven information gathered from CrowdTangle will better inform NDI on Hong Kong citizens’ views in relation to the electoral process, decision-making by Hong Kong institutions and the evolving political climate. This project complements NDI’s evidence-based projects focused on collecting, analyzing and amplifying Hong Kong citizens’ perspectives through anonymous online polling.
NDI has been monitoring the dynamic online political environment in Moldova in the aftermath of Maia Sandu’s recent victory in the November 2020 presidential elections. President-elect Sandu campaigned on an explicit pro-EU and anti-corruption platform and has been a frequent target of hate speech and disinformation/misinformation attacks since her rise to political prominence several years ago. Moldova-watchers widely expect an increase in such attacks, as the next few months will be critical to the political balance and direction of the country. While the presidency is a powerful symbol and has significant foreign policy and judicial powers, anticipated early parliamentary elections is increasing the likelihood of further information attacks at both the presidential and parliamentary levels, to the detriment of all good faith democratic actors.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be highlighting our process and some findings from our ongoing Crowdtangle analyses paired with a contextual background from some of our country teams. These analyses provide us with insights into what content is being shared and by whom, what keywords or hashtags are trending, and enable us to have a richer understanding of the political information environment. We’re excited to be piloting this tool within NDI to further our work on disinformation, hate speech, and online VAW-P.