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How Twitter saved Kenya's election
Social media is playing an increasingly crucial role in letting citizens of developing nations cast their votes without fears of violence
Kenyans celebrate the election in Nairobi.
Kenyans celebrate the election in Nairobi.
Corbis
O

nce again, social media has played a central role in a national election. During Kenya's recent ballot initiative to adopt a new constitution, citizens used Twitter, along with Facebook and a new breed of monitoring technology, to help eliminate the voter intimidation, bombings, and deadly violence that marred the struggling African country's disastrous 2008 election. Here, a quick guide:

How was social media used to monitor the election?
Voters reported any intimidation issues at the polls by posting Twitter messages with the hashtag #uchaguzi (the Kiswahili word for "election"), or sending SMS messages to a specially designated number. A group of volunteers tracked the messages and alerted local officials when necessary.

Besides Twitter, what other technologies were used?
A Kenyan-developed platform called Uchaguzi helped aggregate all reported problems, documenting incidents by location and type (security issues, hate speech, ballot issues) so that anyone with Internet access could get a quick overview on the Uchaguzi site. It's very new for Kenyans, Uchaguzi's Charles Kithika tells The Christian Science Monitor, to see that problems are being reported and investigated, effectively "discouraging" troublemakers.

What makes Uchaguzi more effective than Twitter alone?
Accessibility and ease of use. "You don't need a user name and password to take part on the Uchaguzi platform," Erik Hersman, creator of Uchaguzi's technology, tells Fast Company. "Anyone with a mobile phone [roughly 50 percent of Kenyans] can send a report into the system, and receive alerts of things happening around them. That's powerful."

So what happened?
Despite intense opposition, Kenyans overwhelmingly and peacefully voted to replace their British colonial-era constitution with a new document, according to preliminary reports. "Kenya has been reborn," Kiraitu Murungi, minister of energy and supporter of the new constitution, tells the Associated Press, after "20 years of painful labor."

 Sources: CS Monitor, Sodnet.org, Uchaguzi, Reuters, NY Times, AP, Fast Company

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