Knight Center
Knight Center


Venezuelan media platforms use crowdsourcing to monitor campaigns and elections

Venezuelan media and transparency advocates have launched platforms to ensure that voters in the Dec. 6 parliamentary elections have an outlet to report irregularities in the electoral process.

The website Guachimán Electoral (Election Watchman) launched on Nov. 13 and soon began accepting complaints from Venezuelan residents concerning violations of voting rights or election laws.

The directions for using the platform are simple: send a complaint via SMS (0414-906.56.04), Twitter (#GUACHIMAN6D), WhatsApp (0414-208.48.10), email, voicemail (0212.753.4531) or the Guachimán Electoral website.

The new Guachimán Electoral platform registers and verifies complaints concerning irregularities in the electoral process ahead of elections in Venezuela. (Screen shot of the platform)

Include as much information as possible: what happened, where, when, who was involved and how do you know it happened? If you can, include videos and photos that will help expedite the verification process. The team also encourages citizens to use FotoAhora, a program that uses geolocation to tag a photo with place, time and date.

After the platform receives a report, a team of curators works to verify it and then places it on a digital map in real time. Different colors indicate whether a report has been verified.

Andres Schafer, a Venezuelan journalist who worked on the project, told the Knight Center that propaganda and defamation are common, so part of the team’s goal is to try to make sure these things don’t propagate. He said it’s also difficult to verify, for example, an SMS from a remote place. That’s why the team tries to gather as much specific information as possible and to be transparent about the verification of the report.

In addition to the average citizen or resident that submits reports to the platform, Guachimán Electoral works with about 1,000 electoral observers, including Asamblea Educación, a monitoring network that has worked on previous elections.

The reports that make it to the map are placed into different categories: campaigning control, electoral timetable (ie. campaigning outside of the designated timeframe), use of public resources, publicity and public opinion, manipulation of the intention to vote and security and violence. More categories, such as poll station and voting issues, will be rolled out as election day nears, Schafer said. Additionally, each category has a set of subcategories to narrow the nature of the complaint.

Descriptions accompany each complaint. For example, there are reports of students who said they were beaten by members of a political party or of a public office using their Twitter account to campaign.

The data is displayed on a digital map, in a list and in aggregate via a linear chart.

Since this is an open data project, users can download all complaints in a report. It’s also possible to sign up for alerts. Additionally, Schafer said the data will not be removed; people will be able to consult information past the election time.

As of early afternoon on Nov. 27, the system reported 187 incidents since Nov. 13. Ninety-four of the incidents happened in or around Caracas.

Most the complaints – 142 – fall under the category “use of public resources.” The category with the next highest number of incidents – 36 – is “manipulation of the intention to vote.”

Schafer said he hopes the project will help to find a common ground in society and to provide clarity in the electoral process. Additionally, he hopes it empowers people.

“To know that they know that if they are subject to an abuse of some authority of any kind, that they are not left there with a rage and their impotence, but they can try to go beyond that and write what is happening, and it will be recorded and it will stay there,” Schafer said.

He is working to put together hubs outside of the country that can monitor election day to ensure that the project continues in the case of an event such as an Internet outage.

Project collaborators came from the Venezuelan chapter of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), electoral observers network Asamblea Educación, Transparency International, Poderopedia, El Pitazo, TalCual, RunRun.ES and Crónica Uno.

The team behind Guachimán Electoral is not the only group working to ensure transparency in the campaigning and electoral process.

In addition to their election coverage, news site Efecto Cocuyo is also accepting complaints about irregularities in the electoral process via WhatsApp.

News site Efecto Cocuyo is also accepting complaints about the electoral process via WhatsApp. (Screenshot from news site)

“Depending on the seriousness of the issue and our ability to verify it, we will pass it to another reporting platform, such as one run by electoral observers, or we will disclose the information via the Internet, built a news story, make a through post-election project, and publish the information on all our networks,” said Luz-Mely Reyes, director and co-founder of Efecto Cocuyo, in an email with the Knight Center.

Reyes said it’s part of a larger project of using different means to connect with the audience.

Journalists and civil society advocates are using projects like Guachimán Electoral and Efecto Cocuyo's WhatsApp initiative to reach citizens and promote greater accountability in the electoral process. After the Dec. 6 vote, they will have a better idea of whether these crowdsourcing platforms can effectively perform those tasks.


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