Citizens and their bots that sniff corruption
Using digital media to expose politicians who misuse public money
Palavras-chave:Social Accountability, Anti-Corruption, Activism, Civil Society, Technology
“Naming and shaming” has been considered part of the strategies of many regulatory and anti-corruption agencies and international organizations. This paper explores, instead, the main constraints affecting and benefits of anti-corruption grassroots initiatives that pursue this more confrontational strategy. It does that by questioning why activists choose this approach while examining two anti-corruption bottom-up initiatives in Brazil that detect corruption through bots to audit congressional members’ expenses, and then use social media to expose their suspicious findings. Evidence is taken from interviews and participant observation of text-message groups where members of both projects interact. Exposing those who misuse public money using digital media was a tactic adopted only after failing to achieve the response they expected from control agents, which suggests that it is not enough having a transparent accountability system that offers open data for citizens to oversee and investigate and channels for reporting incidents and requesting specific actions. As an unforeseen effect, the civic digital actions attracted media attention and more supporters willing to be part of the initiatives. Yet, activists recognize the risks and threats of their belligerent approach and face difficulties in financing, keeping both activists and ordinary citizens engaged, and in expanding the scope of their actions, despite the often high expectations on digital media to lower costs and support collective action.