The People's Observatory

A Project from the Critical Internet Studies Institute


With upwards of 70 elections occurring worldwide, it's going to take a large-scale effort to document and archive elected politician's online public posts across all platforms.

Technology has revolutionized all of our vital social and political institutions, but we can't advocate for real change until we understand what's happening.

Ever wonder what politicians are sharing online? Are they sending consistent messages across platforms? How would statistics on how often politicians engage with their online audiences broaden our understanding of civic engagement? If we knew how often politicians interacted with each other online, could we predict who may get involved with specific wedge issues? 

Drawing from the expertise of data scientists, librarians, anthropologists, sociologists, and communication scholars, the People's Observatory will convene, coordinate, and foster collaboration by developing a non-partisan archive of elected politicians’ posts and interactions online. 

The goal of the IOC is to build web applications that support academics, newsrooms, and civil society groups seeking objective information of politicians' use of social media and the web. It will also be useful for those investigating  media manipulation and disinformation campaigns as it will track posts and interactions overtime, which will aid in the identification of coordinated networked incitement, hate, and harassment by repeat offenders. 

There are already many kinds of internet observatory projects related to online advertising, brand monitoring, and engagement with high profile individuals on the web, but none have done the mundane task of capturing all elected officials public postings and providing a user-interface that is simple to view with consistent and rigorous data analysis that compiles daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly trend reports. Rather than supplying messy graphs to interpret, the IOC trend reports will be simple to understand so that ANYONE can quickly incorporate findings into their reports and articles. Large scale datasets will also be available for more robust analysis.

After running this project for several years, we will help to create legislation to mandate archiving of elected officials’ online public communication and interactions.


The People's Observatory will harness the tools and scrapers from open source technology efforts and then match these resources with reporters and researchers covering elections. More specifically, Dr. Joan Donovan has been working alongside researchers and reporters for the last two years on developing applications for analysis of political campaigns online. She has recruited researchers at McGill University, University of Washington, University of Texas Austin, University of Aukland NZ, Università di Urbino Carlo Bo and colleagues at UNESCO to collaborate on this first of its kind International effort. This political observatory will provide basic scientific statistics from the archived posts, and it will allow researchers and journalists to rapidly assess when coordinated behavior is occurring and to what effect; including monitoring mobilizing, doxxing, swarming, and trolling behaviors alongside assessing networked hate, harassment, and incitement

Our field must move far beyond efforts to monitor election disinformation, this internet observatory of elected politicians’ online engagement will be the impartial authoritative record of political communication for decades to come.