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Interaction Social Media and Democracy

Interaction Social Media and Democracy

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Published by: ankitsharm on Jun 01, 2011
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The Alive in Afghanistan project was repeated for the parliamentary elections of 18 September 2010.
Besides Alive in Afghanistan two other Ushahidi instances were created by Small World News. While
during the presidential elections of 2009 the project was not affiliated with any of the official election
monitoring organization working in Afghanistan, in 2010 Small World News created two more Ushahidi
instances besides Alive in Afghanistan which can be found at FEFA2010.com and umap.Afghan2010.com.
This section is a narrative of the Alive in Afghanistan project in 2010, and the FEFA and Afghan2010
The news articles of international media on Alive in Afghanistan in 2009 made it possible for Small World
News to raise some funding for the project to train Afghan journalists on the ground. This training was
given in cooperation with Pajhwok news.
The Alive in Afghanistan website got a different design in 2010. While the 2009 website was based on the
Sharek961 website, which combined the Ushahidi platform with Wordpress (an open source blogging
platform), the 2010 version of Alive in Afghanistan mainly used the basic user-interface of the Ushahidi
platform with only a few little customizations.
After the presidential elections of 2009, eMoksha handed technical management over to Todd Huffman,
who became also responsible for the setup of the 2010 Alive in Afghanistan project. One improvement
Todd Huffman realized is the setup of an SMS gateway specifically for Pajhwok news. Operators besides
AWCC and Etisalat were not able to deliver the SMS-messages to the gateway however because they did


not support the technology. In those cases SMS-messages were sent to the coordinator at Pajhwok news
who would manually enter the reports on the Alive in Afghanistan website.
Small World News dedicated a lot of its time and resources to the two other Ushahidi instances and other
projects outside of Afghanistan. Therefore, the Alive in Afghanistan 2010 project actually used the same
concept as the Alive in Afghanistan 2009 project. Citizen-reporting was technically possible but there was
no citizen reporting as this would at least require a large-scale promotion of the platform.
Brian Conley argues that during the parliamentary elections of 2010, like in 2009, Alive in Afghanistan
remained a valuable source for the international community to look for updates throughout the day. There
were fewer incidents then during the presidential elections of 2009. On election day there were around
150 reports. The site kept running afterwards and got over a thousand reports between September 2010
and January 2011.

Meanwhile, Small World News hoped it could enable Afghan organizations to use the methods and
approach of the Alive in Afghanistan project. FEFA (Free & Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan) was
one of the two organizations to do this. “FEFA is a national, independent, non-governmental institution
working to ensure that democratic processes are implemented transparently through networking, citizen
participation and good governance. It was established in May of 2004 by a coalition of civil society
organizations for the purposes of monitoring elections to ensure they are free and fair, promoting democracy
in the country, promoting public participation in public and electoral affairs, and advancing the
consolidation of public trust and faith in democracy and elections...FEFA was registered with the Ministry of

Figure 8 ("Alive in Afghanistan," 2010)


Justice on 12 June 2004 and is both an organization and a network. Its membership includes 15 domestic civil
society organizations committed to strengthening the participation of Afghan citizens in public life and

democratic processes, and an additional 16 organizations partner with FEFA during elections.”("Afghan
Election Mapper," 2010)
Pre-election data was collected through narrative reports of FEFA’s provincial coordinators and staff at
FEFA’s headquarters in Kabul. On election day, 400 observers of the nearly 7,000 observers working for
FEFA, based all over Afghanistan submitted reports through SMS at the opening of the polls and at the
closing of the polls. Observers answered nine simple Yes/No questions formulated by FEFA. These
questions were:

“Opening of polls (answers sent between 8am and 9am):
Did the polling center open at 7am?
Did you witness political interference at the polling station?
Did you observe any female staff working at the polling station?
Did you witness tampering and other problems with ballots or ballot boxes at the opening of poll?
Was it for the ink to be cleaned from the fingers of the voters?

Closing of polls (answers sent between 5pm and 6pm):
Did you observe any security incidents at the polling station between 17h00 and 18h00?
Did you observe any tampering and other problems with ballots or ballot boxes between 17h00 and


Figure 9 Afghan Election Mapper ("Afghan Election Mapper," 2010)


Did you witness political interference during the counting process?
Were you or other observers obstructed from observing the closing and count of the poll?” ("Afghan
Election Mapper," 2010)
These questions helped identifying irregularities, violence, intimidation, and other problems. FEFA
published the problems on the interactive map and collected more than 400 reports.
Small World News also helped Democracy International (DI), who work on democracy and governance
programs worldwide for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). DI was monitoring the
elections for USAID and initially contacted Small World News to source citizen commentary by using SMS
based polling but Small World News did not manage to establish this. Instead, Small World News created
an Ushahidi instance and SMS gateway to process the reports in the Ushahidi instance ("Afghan2010.com
Observer Report Map," 2010).
The goal of the project was to make the Afghanistan parliamentary election of 2010 more transparent,
more comprehensible for the international community and in particular for U.S. citizens. DI tries to
achieve this, in a similar way to FEFA, by collecting reports from the field observers, specifically with
respect to polling center openings, security, polling procedures, fraud and irregularities, and polling
center closings. The website can be reached by clicking on the ‘Observer Report Map’ button on the
Afghan2010.com website.

As for the parliamentary elections itself; these were less chaotic and there were fewer casualties than in
previous elections but at least two third of the voting population did not vote. The Taliban had threatened
to disrupt the elections but the Taliban and other armed opposition staged about 300 attacks, which is
fewer than during the 2009 presidential elections. During the 2010 elections, 24 people were killed in

Figure 10 Afghan2010.com Observer Report Map ("Afghan2010.com Observer Report Map," 2010)


Afghanistan. During the 2009 elections, more than 40 people were killed. According to the Independent
Electoral Commission (IEC), 3.68 million ballots were cast, which is significantly less than during the
presidential elections in 2009, where there were 4.6 million valid votes, and during the parliamentary
elections of 2005, where there were 6.4 million valid votes (Carlstrom & Hill, 2010).
Although the turmoil during the 2010 parliamentary elections was relatively low, the violence and threats
during months before the elections could have had a negative impact on the turnout (Carlstrom & Hill,
2010). Todd Huffman argues that it is also important to note that parliamentary elections tend to draw
lesser attention and generally have a lower turnout.
Todd Huffman argues the FEFA deployment was a huge success because information could be generated
rapidly and FEFA was much faster aware of what was going on. After the polls closed, FEFA stated it has
serious concerns about the quality of the elections because of a “worrying number” of government officials
interfering in the election process: “FEFA also documented incidents of ballot-stuffing, under-age voting,
and proxy voting - when one person votes on behalf of others.”
(Carlstrom & Hill, 2010) FEFA already
reported some concerns on election day itself. For example, in the afternoon they reported on their site
that more than 1,500 observed polling centers opened late, and ink could easily be washed of the thumbs
of people who voted. They also reported positive news. They reported for example that security forces
performed their protection duties well overall.
Both the FEFA and DI Ushahidi instances did not collect and publish any reports after September 2010.
The first report on FEFA2010.com was posted on the 17th of July and on umap.Afghan2010.com on the 8th
of September. Both instances posted their last report on the 18th of September because they were
specifically aimed at monitoring the 2010 parliamentary elections ("Afghan2010.com Observer Report
Map," 2010; "Afghan Election Mapper," 2010). As said, the Alive in Afghanistan is still posting new reports
generated by Pajhwok news.

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