I Paid a Bribe: Fighting Corruption With Crowdsourcing

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NEW DELHI — In a world of increased reliance on technology, progress for fighting poverty and corruption stems from unique sources. I Paid a Bribe fits the description, as a leading social networking tool that exposes bribery and corruption. While its aims are far reaching, the organization’s success stems from harnessing the power of individual voices to fight worldwide issues.

The social media site operates like an anti corruption fighter’s twitter feed: reports show up real time, exposing when, where and the dollar amount involved in the bribe. Anonymously or not, respondents explain the corrupt government office or official responsible. Ultimately, they detail whether they took part in the illicit action.

Now seven years old, the platform is expanding from its base in India to fight corruption in other countries looking for tools to fight it. Thirty partners strong, the network comprises individualized sites for a handful of developing countries, some of them still in the web development stage. Countries like Pakistan, Syria and Sri Lanka are up and running while new members such as Mexico and Ethiopia are still on their way.

The social network made its debut in 2010 as a product of Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan’s advocacy work in India as part of a larger scale nonprofit, the Janaagraha Center for Citizenship and Democracy. I Paid a Bribe is one of many initiatives aimed at facilitating better relations with government, strengthening democracy and developing infrastructure in the country.

The site specifically targets retail bribery, a type of corruption which puts everyday people in inescapable situations that force them to pay extra for governmental purchases. When necessary errands like passports, birth certificates, property or tickets fall into the hands of a corrupt government official, they can account for retail bribery. The site has exposed 1.4 million bribes of this nature in India since 2010, garnering more than 15 million hits for India’s page.

But what makes I Paid a Bribe so unique? In many ways, success stems from the organization’s drive to facilitate success through crowdsourcing. Eventually, crowdsourcing can instigate change by making public a wide network of experience, although rooted in singular actions.

Crowdsourcing ultimately allows the site to compile reports on corruption trends; this exposes the institutions and locations based on city and state that are particularly rampant with corruption. For example, India’s page shows 142,706 reports, including 36,317 paid bribes and 3,186 unpaid. Bangalore ranks as the top city in the country for bribery as it accounts for 15.2 percent of all reports.

This data plays a multifaceted role in fighting corruption. Ultimately, the network puts bribe trends into the hands of policymakers. This allows for tightened restrictions in corruption-heavy areas, leading to improved policies and laws where they are most needed.

Corruption is well known as a force that perpetuates poverty as it consistently undermines sustainable development. Among its many impacts, bribery channels money to illegal hands, stealing from just sources of economic development and wellbeing. In 2016, Reuters found that bribery unfairly consumes an average of $2 trillion globally each year. These dollars could have helped pay for healthcare, public education or other necessary goods.

Bribery and corruption are prevalent in many developing countries, impacting poor and marginalized populations more than others. In part, I Paid a Bribe began in India because the country is particularly impacted by corruption; a 2016 study revealed that 33 percent of households experienced bribery in one year.

Although social media sites like I Paid a Bribe may not be able to end corruption, they provide solutions that were unavailable in the recent past. The United Nations recognizes that in a technologically advancing world, social media sites afford individuals a safe space to publicly voice their experiences, calling for change.

Harnessing individual voices means that progress not only stems from trends and statistics, but also success stories. In 2012, Manik Taneja used the social media site to share that a corrupt official forced him to pay an unfair customs charge for his kayak at the Bangalore airport. Ultimately his voice resulted in success: with the help of local officials, he was able to hold the corrupt airport worker accountable and take back his stolen 8,000 rupees.

Taneja explains that “these days, websites such as I Paid a Bribe provide avenues that allow us to report such instances and make our grievances heard.” Stories like Taneja’s empower other social media users to expose corruption, but ultimately, they give power back to citizens.

Cleo Krejci
Photo: Flickr

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Cleo Krejci

Cleo writes for The Borgen Project from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her academic interests include English and journalism, Spanish, art and creative writing. Cleo hopes to become a creative nonfiction writer.

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