You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Future of Election Monitoring

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, December 13 2013

What does an algorithm know about the difference between tamales and Tamale, Ghana? (Flickr/fcastellanos)

The Social Media Tracking Centre (SMTC) is an election monitoring process that pulls in information from multiple data streams—Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and blogs and websites—and can be used to generate visualizations and other analytics. It was first launched to monitor Nigeria's elections in April 2011, and then subsequently used in Liberia, Ghana and Kenya.

SMTC project leader Michael Best said at the Information and Communication Technologies and Development conference in Cape Town, South Africa, that they are in the process of working on SMTC 2.0. We reached out to find out more about what that might look like.

First of all, SMTC can already accomplish quite a bit. By aggregating multiple social media streams the analysts get the big picture, and within that can identify “particularities,” everything from a polling place that runs out of ballot papers to an outbreak of violence.

Best said in a telephone interview that their priority right now is polishing and perfecting the software and the process: getting rid of the bugs and other “boring stuff that really matters.”

Making the software more robust is also high on the SMTC to-do list. At the height of violence in Nigeria, they were bombarded with 50 reports a second.

“It is both a human and technology challenge to analyze and respond to that volume of report,” Best said. “We need a platform that can sit there and be pounded on.”

The “blue sky” dreams for the future of SMTC include more sophisticated algorithms, as well as a partnership with civil society organization or other parties interested in monitoring elections around the world.

One kink in Aggie, the software at the heart of SMTC, is its inability to distinguish between certain nuances of speech. During the 2012 Ghana election SMTC was keeping tabs on the northern city of Tamale. Unfortunately, their data streams were clogged with Tweets and Facebook posts about Californian's lunches of chicken and cheese tamales.

Even if the changes in SMTC 2.0 are small, it is a valuable tool worth keeping an eye on.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.