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Russian Election: With Watchdog Website, Students Channel The Power Of The People

Alarmed by reports of fraud during last year’s parliamentary elections, a group of computer-savvy Russians prepared for the upcoming presidential election by creating a virtual monitoring site. The platform has already caught the attention of Mikhail Prok

A massive
A massive
Taiciya Bekbulatova

MOSCOW -- Social media has gotten a lot of credit over the past year for starting and facilitating revolutions, and as a tool for reporting voter fraud. But Facebook and Twitter, the most popular of the social media options, are not necessarily designed for those purposes. With that in mind, a group of Russian students – motivated by reports of widespread fraud and intimidation during last December's parliamentary elections – have created a new platform that is specifically designed to help the whole society monitor the upcoming Russian presidential elections on March 4.

The site, called Grakon.org (from ‘citizen's control" in Russian), is meant to bring voters together, to connect different social organizations and to allow everyone to coordinate and share information. It was created by several graduates of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. One of the site's founders, Mikhail Panko, a doctoral student at MIT, says that work started on the site in January.

"When I saw, from Boston, what was going on in Russia after (the parliamentary elections on) Dec. 4, I got the idea to create a social media network to monitor the elections. A couple of my friends from the Moscow Institute helped me," said Panko. "Our team was made up of volunteers, many of them working from abroad. There were also some people in Moscow."

Promotion for the site is being handled by Maria Gaidar, a 29-year-old political activist who recently left her position as deputy governor of the Kirov Oblast to pursue a Masters in Public Affairs at Harvard.

Gaidar found out about the project from other Russian students. "It is really interesting, how people who are studying science spend an enormous amount of time on this kind of project. I decided that I needed to help them," she explained. "I am convinced that this kind of platform can have an influence on the fairness of the elections. They cause problems for systems of fraud."

The project is funded by donations, although the team is still working for free. According to Panko, they have raised $20,000, from one large anonymous donor and many small donations.

Prokhorov is on board

The new project is not going to compete with existing organizations. "We are an independent, neutral platform. We are prepared to work with everyone who is in favor of fair elections," Panko said, adding that the group is in close contact with several established elections monitoring organizations in Russian.

Panko is hoping the campaign teams of individual candidates will also collaborate by creating their own groups on the site and by attracting active citizens to monitor the elections. One high-profile candidate has already signed on to the idea: billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov. The head of Prokhorov's election-monitoring project, Kseniya Zelentzova, confirmed that they would work with the new platform and provide the site with information.

The press-secretary of the "Citizen-Monitor" project, Matvei Petukhov, said that his organization would work with Grakon.org as well. They plan to have an organizational presence on the site and to ask all of their monitors to register on it. "It is an opportunity to get to know each other, and to get to know lawyers," he explained.

Read the original article in Russian

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How WeChat Is Helping Bhutan's Disappearing Languages Find A New Voice

Phd candidate Tashi Dema, from the University of New England, discusses how social media apps, particularly WeChat, are helping to preserve local Bhutanese languages without a written alphabet. Dema argues that preservation of these languages has far-reaching benefits for the small Himalayan country's rich culture and tradition.

A monk in red performing while a sillouhet of a monk is being illuminated by their phone.

Monk performing while a sillouheted monk is on their phone

Source: Caterina Sanders/Unsplash
Tashi Dema

THIMPHU — Dechen, 40, grew up in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Her native language was Mangdip, also known as Nyenkha, as her parents are originally from central Bhutan. She went to schools in the city, where the curriculum was predominantly taught in Dzongkha, the national language, and English.

In Dechen’s house, everyone spoke Dzongkha. She only spoke her mother tongue when she had guests from her village, who could not understand Dzongkha and during her occasional visits to her village nestled in the mountains. Her mother tongue knowledge was limited.

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However, things have now changed.

With 90% of Bhutanese people using social media and social media penetrating all remotes areas in Bhutan, Dechen’s relatives in remote villages are connected on WeChat.

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