Sharek961: Lebanon monitors its own elections

June 4, 2009

With just three days to go before the elections here, Beirut’s airport has been busy receiving observers from across the world – the most high profile of them being former US President Jimmy Carter. But one new project is hoping to reinforce the teams from the US, the EU and the Arab League by enlisting thousands of technology-savvy Lebanese.

Sharek961, a website based on the open-source software developed by Ushahidi, launched this week and will face a busy weekend as it tries to collate first-hand information sent in from voters heading to the polling stations. As the site points out, foreign observers cannot be everywhere at every moment and so it’s crucial ordinary citizens pitch in to encourage free and fair elections.

Lebanese voters will be able to text, tweet, email or submit online any election-related incidents, from "political rallies and polling queues to vote‐buying and violence." Sharek961 – roughly translated as ‘participate’ plus Lebanon international phone code – will then collect these submissions and publish them in a Google Maps mash-up alongside blog posts, news reports, pictures and videos in an interactive presentation.

The project follows in the footsteps of other crowdsourcing experiments that Ushahidi has pioneered, most prominently during the conflict in Gaza in January when it collaborated with Al Jazeera to map the escalation of hostilities.

As the Economist points out, the technology behind the advances in mapping data is far-reaching, but one of the reasons Sharek961 is such a unique endeavour in Lebanon is its neutrality. In a country where every political player seems to have their own news organisation, it’s refreshing to see a platform emerge that enables the public to be heard.

And it’s good to see that the site is determined to expand the mission of transparency and accountability in Lebanon when all of this weekend’s commotion comes to an end.

I’ll be heading over to the Sharek961 offices this weekend to lend a hand with their election coverage so tune into @mikewhills for more information on the project and the elections in general.