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Covering Turkey's General Elections, One Tool at a Time

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In just over a year, citizens of Turkey are going to the ballot box for the third time. Following local elections in March 2014 and a presidential ballot last August, a General Election in June will complete the country's political cycle and give the electorate of roughly 55 million a well-earned break from casting votes.

Over the next two weeks, this author will be writing brief posts on the upcoming election with a focus on the online tools open source developers are making available in order to improve public participation in a politically tense vote.

Tool No. 1: Seçim Var

In mid-April a group of Public Relations undergraduate students taking a course entitled ‘Digital Cultures’ at Istanbul Bilgi University set up the Seçim Var project, whose name translates as ‘Election Time’. Using the host, Seçim Var is a branch of the broader Ushahidi initiative:

Ushahidi, Inc. is a non-profit software company that develops free and open-source software (LGPL) for information collection, visualisation, and interactive mapping. Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”) was created a website in the aftermath of Kenya's disputed 2007 presidential election […] collecting eyewitness reports of violence reported by email and text message and placed them on a Google Maps map.

The organisation uses the concept of crowdsourcing for social activism and public accountability, serving as an initial model for what has been coined as “activist mapping”—the combination of social activism, citizen journalism and geospatial information. Ushahidi offers products that enable local observers to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet, while simultaneously creating a temporal and geospatial archive of events.

The students’ electoral mapping exercise, which has already received significant mainstream media coverage as well as  promotion within the broader network of online civic initiatives, is destined to go far further than the average class project.

The group has already cooperated with a Turkish citizen journalism collective, Dokuz8Haber, who will verify election news in real time. Dokuz8Haber's verifications will be sorted under a separate ‘verified’ tag .

Around 20 student volunteers act as the moderators: They monitor several election-related Twitter hashtags (#SeçimVar, #Seçim2015), reports from citizens and media coverage. There are three basic categories of report: reports from the street, reports from the media and reports from the ballot box.

All reports produced through the initiative are downloadable, providing ready information for both journalists  and parties participating in the elections. Beyond election day, the project aims to trigger a nationwide impulse towards citizen journalism reporting.

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