Brynne Dunn and Dana Bekri, from the LSE Consultancy Team that prepared a report on the role of social media in the fight against corruption, reflect on their report.
Upon learning that we would be researching ways social media can be used to fight corruption, we were excited to work on such an up-and-coming project for Transparency International. At the same time, we were uncertain about the direction our project would take. While we were familiar with the growing presence of Facebook and Twitter that had permeated social and political realms, we knew little about the plethora of grassroots initiatives that have used ICTs to take on such heavy challenges as corruption.
Ironically, just as we were scratching our heads pondering how to tackle the task ahead of us, a political revolution across North Africa was being set in motion. The popular uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt managed to topple repressive regimes and demand political voice, much to the credit of new media outlets. By utilizing YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to convey images and first-hand reports of the events, protestors were able to connect in solidarity with supportive observers from around the world.
These events turned out to be a great starting point and inspiration for our project. Our brainstorming sessions eventually helped us link the current events to the amazing potential of social media to encourage social and political change. However, it wasn’t long before we realized how easy it was to exaggerate the impact of these technologies. As the revolution spread to the Middle East, it became apparent that social media should not be considered a ‘magic bullet’ towards democracy and transparent governance. Our goal was to find out what civil society actors are already doing to fight corruption through social media platforms. We found examples of almost a hundred cases from all around the world!
These initiatives were put in our original database at the end of our report. Some are simple, low-cost, and goal-specific; while others are more sophisticated, well-funded, and operate on a larger scale. Our report aims to demonstrate the astonishing power of social media to successfully connect large groups of people to achieve a common goal—whether it involves electoral monitoring, keeping checks on governments, providing access to information, responding to disasters, tracking human rights violations or fostering civic engagement.
We also learned of the enormous potential of mobile technology to support such social media initiatives. By providing Internet access to millions of people in developing countries, mobile phones are revolutionizing political activism and connecting the unconnected. Whether it is crowdsourcing information from the public or delegating small tasks through micro-volunteering, social media and mobile technology can be used to effectively organize anti-corruption activists and support their efforts.
Writing this report has inspired us to look for small ways to achieve big change! One lesson learned was to never underestimate the impact of small, local, grassroots projects. Equally important is the recognition that technology can only be as impactful as the activists behind it.
Just as we were concluding our research, nationwide rallies in support of social activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign took place in India. Protesters marched peacefully to demand for tougher anti-corruption legislation. Not only did they trigger a change in the law, but they succeeded in changing attitudes, which, in our opinion, is the most powerful tool in the fight against corruption.