The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Dieter Zinnbauer: Crowd-sourcing corruption: some challenges, some possible futures

Dieter Zinnbauer, Transparency International (International Secretariat Berlin)


This paper maps the current status and future prospects of crowd-sourcing technologies in the area of corruption reporting. A flurry of initiative and corresponding media hype in this area has led to exuberant hopes that the end of impunity is nigh – at least for the blatant forms of administrative corruption that citizens in so many countries around the world face in their daily lives. 

However a closer look at an emergent body of interdisciplinary literature around corruption and social mobilisation can help shed some interesting light on actual uptake and impact and offer a fresh perspective on the potential of social media based crowd-sourcing for better governance and less corruption. So far the potential of crowd-sourcing is mainly approached from a technology-centred perspective. Where challenges are identified, pondered and worked upon they are primarily technical and managerial in nature, ranging from issues of privacy protection and fighting off hacker attacks to challenges of data management, information validation or fundraising. 

In contrast, short shrift is being paid to insights from a substantive, multi-disciplinary and growing body of literature on how corruption works, how it can be fought and more generally how observed logics of collective action and social mobilisation interact with technological affordances and condition the success of these efforts. 

This paper will examine and synthesise this literature in view of informing the analysis of crowd-reporting corruption with a particular focus on questions of pluralistic ignorance, norm reinforcing dynamics and asymmetric information in corrupt exchanges, as well as fallacies of composition in citizen action. It will compare, contrast and combine this body of evidence with Transparency International’s own experience with corruption hotlines in more than 50 countries around the world and online reporting tools of all kinds as deployed in various contexts by many of its country groups. This mix of secondary and primary sources analysis yields a better understanding of current status, challenges and observed impact of crowd-sourced corruption reporting. Based on these empirical insights the paper concludes on a set of speculations on where crowd-sourced corruption could most fruitfully venture next. It will outline a set of ideas that are not only meant to address some of the extant challenges in crowd-sourcing corruption reporting, but that also suggest some avenues for experimentation to deploy crowd-sourced corruption reporting more strategically for maximum effect in the fight against corruption and for public accountability.

Dieter Zinnbauer