ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Policy makers and tech experts from Kenya to Singapore gathered for a workshop to brainstorm how Open Source digital public goods can help fight “information pollution” around elections.
Led by Open Knowledge Foundation’s Renata Ávila and Patricio del Boca, the 90-minute session was part of the recent Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) Member’s meeting held in the Ethiopian capital.
Building on the momentum of the 2023 Nobel Prize Summit campaign where the DPGA and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted Open Source tools mitigating the spread of disinformation, the session is part of a larger project around elections from the OKFN.
Open Knowledge Foundation CEO Renata Ávila and senior developer Patricio del Boca.
Ávila introduced the Foundation’s project around the “Digital Public Infrastructure for Electoral Processes.” The goal for 2024 is to understand how digital infrastructure works in 40 countries and co-design an electoral digital public infrastructure (DPI) to increase resilience and trust in elections.
There’s a lot of work to do: many election processes are opaque and not designed for the average voter to understand. Even if more governments are turning to Open Source for daily work, it hasn’t taken as much root around elections. Del Boca gave the example of Bolivia, where, in 2019, Evo Morales lost due to a controversial “quick count” that claimed he could not avoid a runoff election.
Vital questions were put to the group of about 30 people: What digital public goods could increase public knowledge, transparency and literacy? What are the most pressing problems they need to fix?
Participants posted a flurry of sticky notes on three flip boards around the themes of election day, campaigns and voter registration. Encouraged to use specifics from countries they live or work in, examples ranged from giving equal public air time to all candidates (Italy), gerrymandering (Uganda) and the recent court interference in vote count in Guatemala.
Many of the solutions crowdsourced at the session rested on the principles of open: Public vote tallies (current and historical) APIs for vote counts, data literacy projects and the Open Source app Ushahidi which has frequently been used to monitor elections.
The role of Open Source and how you can get involved
OpenSource.Net talked to Del Boca, OKFN senior developer, about why Open Source is a “must-have, not a nice-to-have” for digital public goods, whether federated social media offers any respite from disinformation and how you can get involved with the election project. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
OSNet: There was a lot of discussion about how much misinformation is stirred up by social media. What are your thoughts on Mastodon: Can an open, more federated platform make a difference to the work you’re doing? Or is social media in general the problem?
PDB: I’m a firm believer that technology isn’t going to solve the problem. The problem is education. I don’t think we need to solve these problems with more technology. Misinformation has been around forever…Mastodon may have more moderation and maybe more tools to stop misinformation, but it’s not going to fix the problem. The Nazis used the radios and dropped flyers to spread their propaganda – the technology only amplifies the problem. Tomorrow, there will be a new technology and we’ll need a new technology to tackle misinformation on that. So I think (Mastodon) can do some good, but I don’t think it’s going to be the solution.
OSNet: As you said, this is a very ambitious project that needs a lot of community input. How can people get involved?
PDB: There are a few ways: You can add your project to the repository, sign up as a subject matter expert in the global directory and participate in an upcoming round table. We’ll be starting a mailing list and community forum soon, too.