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November 26 2011


India - Election Commission plans to use Facebook, Twitter to woo voters

The Times of India :: The Election Commission of India plans to use the social media for spreading the message of higher participation of voters in elections and ethical voting practices. Highlighting the strength and spread of the social media, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said "the Election Commission cannot overlook its outreach."

Continue to read timesofindia.indiatimes.com


December 22 2010


December 20 2010


Using Flat Files So Elections Don't Break Your Server

Publishing live election results requires a carefully tuned system: the setup must be able to withstand some of the most intense traffic levels seen all year at NYTimes.com. We decided to center our elections app on the simplest of all caching strategies: the flat file.

December 08 2010


How Calgary's Mayor Used Social Media to Get Elected

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary at the end of October not by outspending his rivals or hailing from the incumbent political class in Canada. Nenshi didn't plaster his campaign message across the television, and he didn't even buy a single newspaper advertisement.

Nenshi elected.jpg

Instead, Nenshi led a grassroots effort that mobilized soccer moms and utilized online activism on a Facebook page, on Twitter and on YouTube.

Other politicians have used Facebook and Twitter with success. So what was different about Nenshi's campaign?

Stephen Carter, who helped craft the online campaign strategy for Nenshi, credited "complete integration" for the success of the campaign's Internet efforts.


"It's one thing to have a social media policy, but frankly just having social media activity doesn't go far enough to actually making a campaign structure work," Carter said. "It's the integration of the online strategy, and we integrated our online strategy completely."

Calgary had just received a fresh batch of snow when I spoke to Carter, who runs the BBold PR new media public relations company in the city. During our phone conversation I asked him to elaborate on his integration strategy and identify what made the Nenshi campaign so special.

"If we were going to do something online, we would partner that online participation with everything else so that it was all supported," he said. "Our media relations strategy frankly became a social media strategy. If we wanted something to get really covered in the media, we launched it online. We wouldn't even send out a press release."

Carter said journalists now pay close attention to social media, which made a traditional press release a waste of time.

Nenshi iphone.jpg

"Actually, social media became the story more often than not," Carter said. "When we launched our iPhone app that became the story. It really wasn't that innovative. In every election there's this desire to look for the magic bullet. Was social media the magic bullet for us? Absolutely not."


So if the Nenshi campaign shouldn't be regarded as pioneers of social media, what was so special about what they did? Put it this way: They didn't just use social media -- they actually used social media correctly.

"When Nenshi and about six of us around the table were talking about social media, we talked about integrating the message into social media so that Nenshi would be always authentic," Carter said. "The only person who had the password to Nenshi's Twitter account was Nenshi. There was no second account set up for the campaign. Everybody was real. Every person that worked for the Nenshi campaign had their own Twitter account, which allowed us to have authentic communications across the medium."

Nenshi campaign staffers also worked hard at starting online conversations. Whenever anyone from the campaign posted a message on Facebook, they set goals to see multiple comments underneath it. And as often as possible, Nenshi himself would answer questions posted on Facebook or Twitter.

All About the Data

Being authentic is one thing, but how do you know if your authenticity is being well received? Another major component to Carter's strategy was to gather data and constantly measure and analyze the campaign's online efforts.

"We trended on TrendsMap [which we used to perform] local tracking of our Twitter trends from the first day Nenshi announced he was running and basically every day thereafter to make sure we were tweeting and retweeting and pushing out our message every single day," Carter said. "The beautiful thing about social media is that it is entirely measurable.

Being able to measure the impact of social media through retweets and shares on Facebook helped guide the campaign when things didn't go according to plan -- such as during a dust up with Rick Hanson, Calgary's chief of police, over a pre-approved police budget.

Advertising Using Social Media

The final piece of the puzzle for Carter was advertising on Facebook. The campaign put out several different Facebook ads and regularly tested which ones worked.

Stephen Carter.jpg

"With our Facebook ads we decided we were going to try and appeal to middle aged women between 40 to 55, who live in the suburbs, have two kids and who have been or are soccer moms," Carter said. "Everyone has this impression that social media is a young person's medium. It's totally not. We knew that we could get social media activism from that particular group. We targeted them on Facebook and put out a number of messages that appealed to their demographic."

At the start of the Calgary election there was a total of 12 candidates. After raising about $60,000, Nenshi demonstrated he was a viable candidate. In August, Nenshi started at one percent support; he ended with 40 percent on election day.

Carter said the total amount raised during the campaign was about $300,000. Not bad considering how expensive large city elections have been for recent candidates.

"The biggest surprise was that the strategy was implemented exactly as planned," Carter said. "It is ridiculous. That never happens. We certainly didn't go into the campaign thinking that the strategy would work exactly as we wrote it, but it did."

Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC, WGBH, PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

news21 small.jpg

Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

November 29 2010


The best online projects that monitored Brazil’s 2010 Elections

“Last year, electoral reform opened the door for politics 2.0 by authorizing parties to use social networks to raise campaign donations and participate in streamlined debates”, claims Manuella Ribeiro about the recent Brazilian election that made Dilma Rousseff the new president.

Ribeiro made a compilation of the best online projects that worked on transparency, civic engagement and public policies monitors. Here are my personal favorites:

eu lembro

Eu lembro: “Be a voter with an elephant’s memory. Vote and remember everything that happens to politicians”.

VotenaWeb: “A site where you can approach the decisions of National Congress that directly affect your life. Vote and be heard”. Citizens can compare, with an easy interface, their votes on bills and the votes of politicians. The congressional bills are translated into simple language and you can monitor the voting records of different candidates.

Quanto vale seu candidato?: in English “How much is your candidate worth?” is a nice piece of data journalism with information about the patrimony of candidates.

eleitor 2010

Eleitor 2010: developed with Ushahidi to monitor the elections, receive and map complaints about electoral crimes through Twitter, SMS, email and social networks.

Adote um Vereador: encourages citizens to “adopt” a city councilman and open blog about their work to keep an eye on them and their parliamentary activities.

November 11 2010


Burma Elections Include Throttled Net, Blocked News Sites

Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, the head of the Tokyo-based news agency APF, was arrested over the weekend in the eastern border town of Myawaddy, Burma, after reportedly entering from Thailand.

He was taken by helicopter to the Burmese capital, Naypyitaw, for questioning by military intelligence. Yamaji was attempting to report on the ongoing elections in Burma, despite the restrictions put in place by the military junta that rules the country they call Myanmar. Fortunately, Yamaji was released yesterday.

Along with arresting and restricting the access of journalists, Burma also used the election as an occasion to downgrade Internet speeds and stifle the online press. Here's a look at the crackdown that accompanied the recent, highly questionable, vote.

Visa Restrictions

On October 18, Burma's election commission decided not to grant press visas to foreign journalists, reinforcing the impression that the military government intended to isolate the country during the election. The commission's chairman, Thein Soe, said that Burma did not need any foreign journalists or observers because it already had a lot of experience in holding elections. This, despite the fact that the country last had elections 20 years ago.

Several European journalists had their requests for tourist visas rejected by the Burmese authorities.


"The Burmese diplomats have clearly learned to use Google and are rejecting applications by people who are identifiable as journalists," a French reporter whose visa was denied told Reporters Without Borders. Twenty-five Burmese journalists who work for foreign media and two Chinese correspondents were the only foreign media reporters allowed to cover the elections.

A report by Simon Roughneen at Irrawaddy, an independent newsmagazine and website that reports on Burma, quoted an official with China Radio International saying that "usually we cannot report on Myanmar," or on other "sensitive stories," unless specifically asked to do so.

The election commission also announced on October 18 that media would not be allowed into voting stations. The commission and the country's Press Scrutiny Board, which is run by a military officer, closely examines all articles about the election and the statements of the 37 registered political parties. As an example, Favorite News, a privately owned magazine, was recently suspended for two weeks for publishing a cartoon that referred to the elections (see picture at right).

Monitoring Journalists

The Burmese correspondents of foreign news media were also closely monitored by plain-clothes police and soldiers during the voting on November 7, and throughout the preceding election campaign. "According to testimonies from reporters on the ground, some of them have been followed and sometimes searched, while the police spend their time taking photos of them while covering a story," according to a recent report published by our organization, Reporters Without Borders.

Foreign journalists have for decades been finding it extremely difficult to obtain press visas for Burma and have been forced to travel under tourist visas. This heightens the danger for the Burmese who work as fixers or agree to interviews. Zarganar, the Burmese blogger, actor, comedian and political prisoner, was jailed after talking to the BBC in 2008.

Zarganar, who is nicknamed the "Burmese Chaplin," was arrested on June 4 after talking to the BBC World Service and other foreign news media about delays in the humanitarian relief organized by the military after Cyclone Nargis struck the country in May 2008. He also blogged about the activities of the country's Buddhist monks during the September 2007 protests.

Zarganar was sentenced to 35 years in jail during a closed door trial at Insein prison. An extra 14 years were added to his sentence less than a week later. His sentence was then reduced back to 35 years. He is not due to be freed until 2033.

Internet Issues

Burma is home to some of the world's most draconian media laws, and it ranked 174 out of 178 countries in the 2010 Press Freedom Index. We have also labeled Burma as an "Enemy of the Internet," a distinction it continues to deserve thanks to its actions during the elections. Out of the 2,150-plus political prisoners in Burma, around 15 are journalists, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists last year branded Burma the worst country in which to be a blogger.

It's therefore not surprising that Internet connections inside the country were noticeably reduced in preparation for voting. "I can no longer connect to my Gmail account using proxies," a Rangoon-based journalist said. "Accessing all the websites based abroad has become terribly slow."

According to Irrawaddy, Internet cafes in Rangoon were closed in advance of the elections. From a November 1 report on the website:

Burma's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT) has sealed off Internet access for Internet cafes and businesses, according to experts on Burma's Internet infrastructure.

Sources close to the ministry who asked to maintain anonymity have told The Irrawaddy that Internet access is normal at all government and military institutions serviced by MPT, but "access for businesses and Internet cafes" is shut down to control the flow of information in and out of the country.

On October 5, Reporters Without Borders reported the disruption of two news websites due to Internet-based attacks. The Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy magazine were temporarily knocked offline. Both provide independent coverage of current affairs in Burma. The attacks are believed to have originated from the Burmese government.

On Sunday, the authorities ordered the privately owned Eleven Media group not to update the special "Elections" sections of its website or Facebook pages.

As of today, 13 reporters and two Netizens are behind bars in Burma. The fear is that more could join them in the aftermath of these elections.

Photo of Bagan by druidabruxux via Flickr

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 17 2010


Hallmarks of Good Campaign Sites: Simplicity, Inspire Action

A political campaign website is the place where candidates recruit new volunteers, and where the candidate can get their message out unfiltered. It's more important than ever, and yet many candidates still struggle to get it right.

"The website really is that first real encounter with the voter; it's your chance to turn a casual visitor into an actual supporter," said Colin Delany, founder and chief editor of Epolitics.com.

A good website will get visitors to take action in some way. Often, one of the best small victories for a candidate is to get people to provide an email address for future contact. Email is like the gateway drug for a politician's campaign website, getting people involved one click at a time.

But that's just the beginning. Getting the basics right requires a dedication to making the simple things work for average folks.

Inspire Action

Joe Rospars, a founding partner of Blue State Digital and the new media director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, said that a politician's website should make it as easy as possible for someone to figure out how they can help the candidate by either giving time, money or passing along information from the campaign site to friends.

Blue State Digital.gif

"At a technical level, when there are too many clicks to get to the thing you want people to do and they want to do, that's a waste of their time and a missed opportunity," Rospars said.

Rospars also said a campaign needs to ask if the website is a true reflection of their offline operations. For national candidates, they must determine if the website offers opportunities to engage at the local, statewide and national levels. Is it the heartbeat of the campaign in terms of the latest news, information, organizational efforts and events that are going on?

Of course, a campaign website has to have good content. Delany said this content has to help persuade a potential supporter. At the same time, a website and online presence can't have so much going on, and be so complicated that a small team -- or the candidate herself -- can't keep everything updated.

"You want to reach people through the channels that they use," Daleny said, "but if you are out on 20 different social networks, you don't have time to maintain any of them well. You don't want to build any more than you can maintain."

Examples of Good and Bad

Daleny pointed to the re-election website of Sen. Harry Reid and the campaign site of Sean Duffy, who is running for Congress in Wisconsin's seventh district, as exceptional candidate websites. He noted that while the layouts are different, it's easy to find buttons for getting involved and where to find out more about the candidates. Additionally, Daleny suggested that Reid's emphasis on Nevada's landscape is something that might draw positive attention to his unpopular candidacy with something that constituents care for, while Duffy's emphasis is on him as a candidate.

harry reid grab.jpg

In contrast, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's campaign site for his run for governor seems to have been inspired by BarackObama.com, according to Delany. But, he said, "it's so cluttered that it's almost an assault on the eyes...very hard to pick out the information you're actually looking for."

A website played an important role in the victory of Senator Scott Brown during Massachusetts' special election in January 2010. Robert Willington, a web and political strategist for the Brown campaign and executive director of RebuildTheParty.com, said the campaign website should act as a "hub" for what's happening at campaign headquarters and with the candidate.

scott brown grab.jpg

"It's like the center part of the wheel that connects everything else," Willington said. He said the Brown campaign often used social media like Twitter to drive people to the site.

Tim Hysom works as the director for communications and technology services at the Congressional Management Foundation. He has also worked on the CMF's Gold Mouse Report, which recognizes the best websites on Capitol Hill. Hysom said a good candidate's website acts as a kind of virtual office.

"The website should be a place where every kind of information that the [actual] office could provide...is available to the greatest extent possible," he said.

Two examples of sites that do it right are the winners of the CMF's top award, the Platinum Mouse Award. Last year those were Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rep. Steve Israel from New York.

murkowski grab.jpg

One thing that all good campaign websites have in common is that they get to the point quickly and do a good job of capturing a user's interest.

"At the end of the day what many people will give you is their first couple of seconds on the site," Rospars said. "If you don't make clear that they are important or that there are real opportunities to get involved and that it will be a meaningful thing for them, they are gone."

Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC,WGBH,PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

September 13 2010


Patchwork Nation Relaunches in Drupal with District Layer

This year's primary election upsets in Alaska, Florida and Utah and the volatile Congressional campaigns currently underway -- all of which take place amid widespread voter discontent and the rise of the Tea Party movement -- illustrate the growing need for easily-accessible and easily-updated portals for political data and analysis.

Election-season data visualization is traditionally cast in the form of public opinion polling data delivered through the red/blue/purple national maps of state and district races. Although that is a useful shortcut to inform the classic horse-race electoral narrative, it leaves us hungry for context. Dividing the U.S. into blue and red states masks important trends and relationships, and the patterns within the binary electoral results remain opaque.

Patchwork Nation

Recognizing the need to look at elections a different way, Patchwork Nation was born four years ago. Created from the inspiration of Dante Chinni and built into a living project in partnership with the PBS NewsHour and the Christian Science Monitor, it focuses on delivering more context while remaining visually intuitive for the reader. The Jefferson Institute is proud to have partnered with Patchwork Nation in their 2010 relaunch, which involved porting them to Drupal, adding a district layer to their already compelling map of U.S. counties, and deepening the delivery of data visualizations for individual counties and districts with the Knight News Challenge sponsored VIDI data visualization toolkit.

patchwork grab.jpg

The site's new back end is even more exciting. We've moved all the data series that Patchwork Nation uses to Drupal tables and designed an interface for administrators to build, post and embed maps, charts and graphs on the fly. All that visualization work was done in the past by the brilliant and overburdened IT staff of the NewsHour. Now, Chinni or any of his data-savvy colleagues can do it themselves, and the NewsHour's IT staff can focus on more strategic challenges.

Patchwork Nation delivers a rare blend of data and analysis, simultaneously providing local, regional and national specificity. Geographically, it helps viewers understand how their community is similar to and different from their neighbors' and others across the country. It places an emphasis on trend lines over snapshots, providing profiles of the electorate and voting history over time, complimented by analysis and anecdotal stories, and enriched with demographic and economic history to help readers understand the changing shape of the electorate itself.

In these days of shrinking newsroom IT budgets and increasing demand for journalistic data visualization, the project clearly demonstrates the advantages of directly empowering journalists with the tools to visualize the narratives within data.

May 06 2010


#ge2010: How to follow election day online

As live events go, election night has to be one of the biggest opportunities for journalists and news organisations to get tweeting, liveblogging, mapping and more. Here’s our guide to the best online coverage of election day and plans for tonight’s results, as we look at what journalists’ can learn for future live events and how readers (and voters) are being kept informed:

Produced in associated with Channel 4 and the New Statesman, Guardian.co.uk’s election coverage features a map plotting voter turnout. It’s reliant on people tweeting when they’ve voted with the first half of their postcode and the #ukvote hashtag, but gives a good real-time picture of where the votes are coming in from.

The goal of the experiment is to inspire more people to vote and to help get a sense of turnout during the course of the day and across the country. Channel 4 News is also trying to gauge turnout using a poll as part of its election day liveblog, which dominates its homepage today.

The Guardian has also changed the layout of its homepage to incorporate more election coverage – particularly like the way it highlights the latest updates from its election day liveblog as part of the top stories box.

Ahead of tonight’s results the Telegraph has a handy guide to when constituencies will be declaring and which party is targeting which seats.

The BBC has its live page up and ready for tonight and is promising to use all its multimedia resources to boost its online coverage, with a liveblog of the results for those following online and on mobile and streams of the best radio and TV footage from the BBC via the website. Particularly nice is the slideshow of how to vote – the practicalities not which party to vote for and the option to download an election night party pack.

As part of extensive election night coverage online, Sky News has a handy, hour-by-hour guide of what happens on election day and has Facebook chat around the election added to its liveblog, so users can post status updates from the Sky site.

The Financial Times is hosting an election special on its Westminster blog for election day; while the Times’ group blog Election ‘10 is worth a mention for today’s blow-by-blow coverage and its offering of analysis, news and commentary throughout the election campaigns, balancing live and need-to-know with deeper commentary.

The Liverpool Daily Post has an excellent election section and its election map that will show the results for its local seats as they come in is a great feature. This set-up is being used by other Trinity Mirror titles too, including the Birmingham Post and Mail titles, which have also adopted the group blog Party Central for local politicians set up by the Liverpool Post & Echo:

The hyperlocal election:

We’ve written about the opportunities for hyperlocal, independent news sites in covering the general election and its seems tonight will be no exception. Expect liveblogs – Sunderland blog SR2 Blog is hoping to be one of the first sites to report a results, while Blog Preston has recruited student bloggers for the task; and live tweeting – new site for Manchester Inside the M60 will be tweeting the results live and posting them to the site as soon as they come in. Let us know if you’re planning something special for tonight or trying out some live reporting for the first time in the comments below.

Non-news sites:

Tweetminster gives an unrivalled view of tweeting going on during election day, filtering tweets from politicians and prospective parliamentary candidates, as well as mapping voter turnout by tweet and trending topics.

Facebook has set up a live vote count showing how many Facebook users have said they’ve voted, as well as pulling in news updates from external sites and polling users on its Democracy UK page.

And finally, if just for fun, a picture of how tweeters are aligned by party from @jaygooby.

If you’re a journalist, blogger or just an interested party let us know how you’re reporting and following election night as it happens.

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