Data Science Protecting Democratic Freedoms in the U.S.

Advances in data science, machine learning and predictive technologies offer organizations working to protect democratic freedoms unprecedented opportunities to leverage data to achieve their mission, scale their work and help build a more just and equitable world. In response to recent discourse and policy in the U.S. targeting vulnerable groups and threatening our democratic institutions, we’re launching five new DataCorps projects and will be hosting a DataDive focused on these important issues.  

With the support of the Omidyar Network, Knight Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and other funders, DataKind will be partnering with inspiring groups across the country to help combat online harassment, improve resources for undocumented immigrants, protect environmental government data, ensure fair access to voting in California, detect deceptive speech from politicians and more. Read below to learn more about these long-term DataCorps projects as well as our upcoming November DataDive in New York, where we’ll be working with three organizations focused on promoting government transparency, affordable housing and combating extreme hate groups.  

Get involved!
Join us in supporting democratic freedoms and civil liberties in the U.S. East Coast volunteers, apply to help combat deceptive political speech with the Knight Foundation or register for our New York DataDive this November.

DataKind is currently looking for partners and donors to support the projects below and our democratic freedom work overall. Please contact to learn more. 

Data Infrastructure and AI To Combat Online Harassment

Online SOS
Volunteer team: Eric Chen, Ankit Gupta, Anil Muppalla, Daniel Pedraza, William Sheffel

Online harassment can take on many forms –  threats of violence, extortion, sexual harassment, impersonation, or releasing of personal details or intimate images – and often occur without consequence. Despite the internet’s ubiquity, not all online harassment activities may be criminal offenses and it can be difficult to navigate the dizzying array of statutes across jurisdictions. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter place the onus of reporting and proving abuse onto the abused, asking the victim to list incidences of past events that might be painful and triggering.

Online SOS is a team of mental health, business, and tech professionals concerned about the state of online spaces, particularly online harassment. They exist to provide help to those in crisis or recovery from online harassment as quickly as possible, with the least amount of emotional distress, through professional support. Online SOS is now working with a team of DataKind volunteers to scale their services by integrating AI and data science best practices to its existing chatbot. The chatbot, which functions as the frontlines of the intake process, would leverage AI to intelligently interpret incoming user requests and offer customized support. In addition, Online SOS is looking for a sustainable framework to store data, track client progress and interventions, and other programmatic information that would help them refine their offerings and understanding their effectiveness.  

Improving Access to Resources for Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration Advocates Network
Volunteer team: Audrey Ariss, Andrea Bonilla, Hans Fricke, Dora Heng, Rajesh K Metha, Clarissa Salazar

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, nearly 15% (more than 1.5 million) are likely eligible for existing immigration benefits; however, many are simply not aware that legal relief is available. 

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) is a collaborative effort of leading immigrant rights organizations designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants and strengthen the capacity of organizations serving them. IAN promotes more effective and efficient communication, collaboration, and services among immigration advocates and organizations by providing free, easily accessible, and comprehensive online resources and tools. A core program of IAN is (immi) – an online plain-language screening tool and information hub in English and Spanish. Immi helps immigrants understand if they qualify for existing immigration options, such as asylum, family-based immigration, relief for victims of crimes, and more. It also helps immigrants understand their rights, become better consumers of legal services, avoid fraud, and find free or low-cost legal assistance from trusted nonprofits.

IAN is now working with its volunteer team to use anonymous data from the screening tool, website, and other sources alongside demographic and census data to better understand the impact of immi and more effectively outreach to immigrant communities. This will be accomplished by identifying opportunities to optimize user paths and assessing where there are gaps in access to resources for immigrants.

Filtering and Classification to Automate the Protection of Environmental Government Data

Environmental Data Governance Initiative
Volunteer team: Karthik Balasubramanian, Ryan Connor, Ryan Coughlin, Anuja Kelkar, Anna FitzMaurice, Taimur Sajid, Abhinandan Seshadri

United States federal environmental and energy policies, information, and data are facing threats of revision, reduction, and removal. Eliminating or weakening the infrastructure that houses the data and that publicizes the policies has a profound impact on the public’s “right to know,” the United States’s scientific leadership, and many measures of environmental protection.

The Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI) is a network of academics and nonprofits building resources and capacity to proactively archive this vital data and ensure sustained public accessibility to federal energy and environmental information. EDGI has built a tremendous network of volunteers that analyze millions of web pages for daily changes and contribute to longitudinal data tracking and analysis. While EDGI’s current processes have yielded impressive results, they are difficult to scale. EDGI is now working with its volunteer team to to build a filtering system using machine learning that can automate change tagging and classification, greatly increasing EDGI’s efficiency. As a second deliverable, the team will create a dashboard or simple reporting tool to help the organization quickly identify and communicate key statistics to stakeholders.


Help Ensure Fair Access To Voting In California

California Civic Engagement Project
Volunteer team: Frances Lu, Tom Marthaler, Quynh Nguyen, John Zenk, Carol Zhang 

In September 2016, the California State Senate passed SB450, the California Voter’s Choice Act. This legislation allows select counties in 2018 to choose to adopt a new voting system. This new model enables counties to mail every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot which the voter can mail in, drop off at a secure ballot box, or drop off at a newly established Vote Center. At Vote Centers, voters can cast their ballots in person, drop off their vote-by-mail ballots, access same-day voter registration, receive replacement ballots, and access additional services.

The goal of this project is to minimize the difficulty for election officials in selecting equitable locations for vote centers and vote-by-mail drop boxes, and to reduce the likelihood that historically disenfranchised groups are not disproportionately negatively affected by where vote centers are placed.

California Civic Engagement Project (CCEP), housed at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, is collaborating with DataKind to ensure that historically disenfranchised groups are not disproportionately negatively affected by a new voting policy in California. They are collaborating with DataKind’s volunteers to create a user-friendly tool to help government officials locate the best areas to place vote-by-mail drop boxes and vote centers to ensure there is fair access to voting for all, identifying areas where vote-by-mail drop boxes and vote centers would have the most success (i.e., attract the most voters while minimizing any potential disenfranchisement).


Use Deep Learning to Identify Deceptive or Uninformed Political Statements

Duke Reporters’ Lab
Currently recruiting for East Coast volunteers! Apply >

News organizations like PolitiFact,, and The Washington Post routinely fact-check political speeches and advertisements, but the time-consuming reporting process means journalists and voters cannot immediately tell when a politician is uninformed or deceiving constituents.

While completely automated fact-checking is still a work in progress, multiple subject matter experts we’ve consulted have said that automating the process for identifying patterns of deceptive speech is a step in that direction. That’s why DataKind is partnering with the Duke Reporters’ Lab and the Knight Foundation to use the power of predictive technology to accelerate the fact-checking process in service of combating deceptive speech from politicians. We’re now recruiting a DataCorps team to build a deep learning model that can score a speech or advertisement on deception, misinformation and uninformed statements to help journalists and organizations prioritize what to fact-check so that they can more quickly inform the public about a candidate’s deceptive or uninformed behavior and ultimately hold candidates immediately accountable for what they say.

Interested in joining the team?  Learn more and apply >


New York, join us for a weekend DataDive!

DataKind will be hosting its second DataDive in New York this year November 10-12. Held in partnership with Omidyar Network and the Knight Foundation, with support from Bloomberg, DataRobot, and American Airlines, the DataDive will focus on promoting democratic freedoms in the U.S. Work alongside fellow New York City data do-gooders and experts from the organizations below:

  • Center for Responsive Politics, Financial Disclosures
    Develop a process to identify nuanced patterns in politicians’ personal financial disclosures, making this information more valuable to political journalists and public watchdogs who track these activities.

  • Center for Responsive Politics, Political Ads
    Track when special interests purchase political ads in order to create an open, public tracking tool for newsrooms around the country.

  • Los Angeles Mayor’s Office
    Identify illegal housing conversions in service of protecting vulnerable tenants. 
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
    Develop a methodology to measure volume and interest in hate content online and monitor how effectively hate sites are exploiting Google Search.

All skill levels welcome – just bring your laptop, maybe a friend, and desire to make an impact. RSVP today >

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