Social Media and Anticorruption Reform: When Does Crowdsourcing Work?

Is social media the next great tool in fighting corruption, or is its role more limited? As Matthew noted in his last post, some anticorruption activists have used blogs and other online platforms to circumvent traditional media, and there’s some limited evidence they may have had an effect. Perhaps even more exciting, the launch and the early successes of the website I Paid A Bribe, started by an Indian nonprofit, suggested that the egalitarian internet could take advantage of “crowdsourcing” approaches to provide information on corrupt activities, disincentivize bribe-taking, and educate the public. Anticorruption reformers in other countries took note of I Paid A Bribe’s achievements, launching their own country-specific spinoff websites.

But those websites have not been universally successful. One of the most notable recent disappointments has been in China, where I Paid A Bribe and similar crowdsourced antibribery platforms failed, and ultimately folded. Recent research by Yuen Yuen Ang examines the short-lived existence of China’s crowdsourced antibribery platforms and offers some explanations for why the Chinese efforts failed to accomplish their objectives. While she stops short of offering broader takeaways on the role of social media in combating bribery, we can draw some conclusions using her work as a starting point. Broadly speaking, her conclusions suggest that social media is only effective in combating bribery where an adequate educational, social, and political framework exists to support its use. Continue reading