Godforsaken Women: The Rights of Ethno-religious Minority Women

Godforsaken Women

The world often forgets that the Middle East was once a vibrant heterogeneous region. It is easy to discount the various minority inhabitants of the region when sectarian violence between the two main Islamic factions rules the news reports. Ever so often however, the world jolts awake. The recent wake up call was the news on the sexual enslavement and torture of Yezidi women. The world was outraged and called for immediate measures to be taken. Interestingly, a Yezidi priest requested a change in attitude from its community. The priest requested his congregation to welcome the Yezidi girls, who were freed from their captors, in their community again. In the past these communities often shunned women who were raped or converted to Islam. This meant that women were ousted from their communities due to the conservative environment that places a stigma on rape. This horrendous case is a clear example of the double discrimination that women who belong to a religious minority group in the Middle East face. First, women are vulnerable to attacks and discrimination due to their ethnic origin. Second, these women are discriminated on the basis of their gender. This notes a duality in the position of women who belong to a minority. Double discrimination is one of the effects of this duality. Understanding issues such as these, that can lead to double discrimination, is difficult due to the secretive and reclusive nature of minority communities. This research project aimed to shed a light on the difficult position of women in these minority groups. For now, I will only post my introduction and methodology on this space. I will update this site once my paper with the content of the interviews is published. My goal is to cast the unique content of this research project in a creative design mould that will do justice to the stories of these women.

This research project focused on women belonging to a minority group in Iraq. Iraq, the modern state that houses the region that is historically known as Mesopotamia, has always had an ethnically and religious diverse population. The position of minorities in Iraq has always been precarious. Minorities could maintain their ethnic and religious culture and traditions, but they were subjected to the whims of the dominant majority. In uncertain and insecure times, the majority would often change its views towards the minority. The status of minorities would become unstable. This led minority groups to become reclusive and maintain their traditions and cultures in secrecy.

There are several minority groups in Iraq. However, this research project focused on three ethno-religious minority groups, namely: Chaldeans, Yezidi’s and Mandaeans. Ethno-religious minorities are minorities whose ethnicity is linked to their religion. In these cases an individual is born into a specific ethnic community that is linked to a religion. These two factors cannot be separated from each other. The individuals within such a community share both their ethnic identities as well as the same religion. It is rare or in some cases even not possible to convert to an ethno-religious minority group.

The reason why ethno-religious minorities will be analyzed instead of minority women at large is, because minority women do not experience the same duality as described above. Naturally these women also have to deal with discrimination due to their gender, but some of these groups belong to the majority’s religion or the majority’s ethnic population. For example, the Kurds are an ethnic minority within the state of Iraq but at the same time belong to the dominant religion of the state.

Ethno-religious minorities are recognized in the Constitution of Iraq and in other legislation, but women are either subjected to adhere to laws based on the Sharia, which contradict their own beliefs and traditions, or left out and allowed to settle matters in their own ethno-religious communities. However, ethno-religious minority groups do not have stable and consistent rules on affairs with regards to women. Often, elderly men decide cases on an ad-hoc basis. Additionally, the fact that ethno-religious minority groups are reclusive leaves women in a vulnerable and unstable position.

Unfortunately research regarding ethno-religious minority women is extremely sparse. This is due to the fact that the communities are reclusive and are reluctant to talk to outsiders. The vulnerable position of ethno-religious minority communities created an environment in which minorities were afraid to express their ethno-religious identity. Therefore a major portion of this research project focused on identifying the position and the rights of these women within their communities.

This research project examined the position of ethno-religious minority women and the double-discrimination that they face regarding family law matters. Issues regarding family affairs affect all women. Marriage, divorce and inheritance are topics that affect their daily lives. In the case of ethno-religious minorities it becomes even more interesting. Iraq is a state party to a number of international treaties that affects the position of women. In addition Iraq also has a number of state and regional level legal instruments regarding these topics. However, Iraq’s state religion is the Islam. Legislation that has been ratified by Iraq, whether on an international or state level, makes reference to the rules of the Islam. Ethno-religious minority women do not adhere to the teachings of the Islam, but at the same time their daily lives are influenced by the same legislation. If women are allowed to adhere to their own religious rules that regulate family law, then these rules are often not codified, and can clash with legislation at the international, state and regional levels. There is also a lack of information on what happens within the local communities of these women. Local level rules that affect women within the community are often not codified. In addition it is also unclear how the interaction between the different levels affect the position of ethno-religious minority women regarding family law. Therefore research that examines the problems ethno-religious minorities face has to examine both codified as well not codified rules at various levels of legislation. Research is necessary in order to examine what the position of ethno-religious minority women regarding family matters within their own communities is. This research project therefore focused on the position of ethno-religious minority women regarding their family law rights within three different layers (local, regional and international) of the legal society.


A part of this research project was traditional legal literature research, but the majority of this research project was based on interviews with both religious figures as well as ethno-religious minority women. The paragraph on this website will elaborate on the methodology of the interviews.

Literary sources on the legal position of ethno-religious minority women in Iraq regarding family law matters are close to non-existent. Therefore this part of the methodology equipped a different method. It was necessary to hold interviews with religious scholars to map out the legal position of ethno-religious women regarding family law issues. However, it was also important to analyze how their position functions in practice. Therefore, interviews had to be also held with ethno-religious minority women. These women had to have an active role within their ethno-religious communities and either experienced or have knowledge of the cases that are the vocal point of this research project. Regarding the qualifications of religious figures it was important that they either held official positions as religious leaders or that they were involved in assessing cases of women regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Mapping Out the Rules

There is a severe lack of information on the religious rules that govern the lives of ethno-religious minority women. A methodology had to be established to map out the rules of the three unique ethno-religious minority groups in a systematic way. Each of these three ethno-religious minority groups might have different religious rules that govern marriage, divorce and inheritance. This part of of the research could have easily become an entangled web of different religious rules. It was therefore of utter importance to organize these rules in a methodical way.

The starting point was the information provided in Iraq’s personal status law of 1959. Each rule that governs the topic of marriage (including polygamy), divorce and inheritance was added to the table. Subsequently each Islamic rule could be coupled to a question. For example, article 6 paragraph d of Iraq’s personal status law states that a marriage contract is valid if two witnesses who bear legal competence are present during the establishment of the marriage contract. The question that can be linked to this condition is: do witnesses have to be present? If so, how many and do they have to bear legal competence? All the relevant Islamic rules from the personal status law were dissected and coupled to questions. These were then used as interview questions for the religious scholars. All this information was accumulated in a table. The table has 4 cells. The first cell is titled Islam. As described above, this cell consists of the codified rules stated in Iraq’s personal status law of 1959. The second, third and fourth cell consist of the religious rules of the Chaldeans, Yezidis and Mandaeans. These rules were derived from the interviews held with each religious figure.


Interview Analysis

The scope of this project was limited, therefore the amount of interviewees that could be interviewed was limited as well. I developed a cross-analysis methodology to analyze the answers as the population group was limited due to the scope of the project. By cross comparing the data the answers could be verified. Furthermore, I wanted to delve into how the relationships between the different actors are interlinked. The cross examining method allowed me to compare the answers on similarities, differences and remarkable comments that each actor made.

 The method is best described through the chart below:


Figure 1: interview method Source: authors (Nóra Al Haider) own chart


I Islamic religious figure          Y1 Yezidi woman 1
C Chaldean religious figure     Y2 Yezidi woman 2
Y Yezidi religious figure           Y3 Yezidi woman 3
M Mandaean religious figure  M1 Mandaean woman 1
C1 Chaldean woman 1              M2 Mandaean woman 2
C2 Chaldean woman 2              M3 Mandaean woman 3
C3 Chaldean woman 3

In diagram 1 the different comparisons that are made throughout the interviews are illustrated. There are four types of comparisons. Each type is numbered in the diagram 1. Number 1 illustrates the answers of the religious subjects that were compared to one another by looking at the differences and similarities of their answers. Remarkable comments that each religious figure made were also added to the analysis.
Number 2 illustrates the comparison between the answers of each ethno-religious group of minority women and their respective religious figures. The analysis looks at similarities, differences and remarkable comments.
Number 3 illustrates the comparisons between the answers of individual women within each ethno-religious group of the same religion. Differences, similarities as well as remarkable comments are analyzed.
Number 4 illustrates the comparison between the three ethno-religious groups of women that were interviewed. Differences, similarities as well as remarkable comments are analyzed.


The local, state, regional and international (family law) rights of ethno-religious women have never been mapped out in a systematic and thorough way. The results of the interviews that I held with both the women and the scholars provided new and unique information regarding their legal position. My goal now is to publish the interviews and the legal analysis in an academic paper. After publication I would like to create an online platform that keeps track of the rights of ethno-religious women and shines light on their position. I will update my portfolio page with more information once the paper has been published.

Project Details 
This blog post is a heavily abridged version of my research project. 
It will be edited throughout the next few months 
with more examples and illustrations once the paper is published. 
Status: finished 
Publication: in progress

Copyrighted by Nóra Al Haider 2016


Mapping out the Chinese Petition System


Ever had a system crash on your computer? Remember that moment of annoyance not knowing what exactly went wrong while you furiously press Ctrl+Alt+Delete? It is frustrating for many reasons, not in the least because you have no idea why the system crashed in the first place. This scenario happens in legal systems as well. It is great when people make use of a legal system, but less so when the system is overburdened.


Legal systems are complex to analyze. The procedures are often dated, complex and not flexible to withstand our every-changing society. This does not necessarily mean that the whole system has to be overhauled when a fault occurs as this is a painstakingly slow, bureaucratic and costly process. A more efficient alternative would be to locate the problematic areas of a system through design-thinking. Design-thinking emphasizes ‘the user’ and user-centered solutions in the process of building new frameworks. One of the many ways in which design-thinking can help to locate the problematic areas is through mapping out the legal system through the perspective of ‘the user’. This is allows us to visualize the obstacles ‘the user’ comes across when the system is being used.

This project analyzed the petition system in China. This complex system is overburdened with the amount of petitions submitted each year. My objectives were to make sense of the system, detect the problematic areas and pinpoint where adjustment can be made to improve the system. Before we delve deeper into this topic, it is important to take a quick look at the Chinese petition system.


Petitioning, in Mandarin known as xinfang or shangfang, is an old and traditional Chinese concept.In Mandarin shangfang literally means visiting higher authorities. This concept originated in ancient China. If a citizen had a grievance he or she would travel to Beijing to appeal their case to the emperor. These grievances were accompanied by theatrical gestures and other rituals.The practice of petitioning survived and continues into the present day. Nowadays citizens can submit their complaints to governmental institutions through either letters and/or visits.

The petition system is used frequently by Chinese citizens and is perceived more favorably than other legal routes (Minzner 2006, p. 105).  This might be because the petition system places emphasis on mediation, which fits perfectly into the Confucian preference for mediation and harmony (Gillespie & Chen 2010, p. 67-70). Unfortunately, due to the popularity of petitions the system is overloaded. Before mapping out the problems, it is important to examine the procedural rules of the Chinese Petition System.

Procedural Rules of the Petition System

Every government level is obligated to create a petitioning institution. Currently there are not only petitioning institutions at every level of government but also for each separate governmental institution. Petitions are handled by either dedicated staff or separate institutions.

The petitioning institutions are allowed to handle almost every topic of complaint or other forms of submissions. According to the 2005 National Petitioning Regulations, citizens are allowed to receive information on a situation and submit suggestions, opinions, complaints and requests. A petitioner may submit, either individually or with a number of people, a petition in form of a letter, phone call, fax, visit or email.

There are no strict guidelines on the steps that follow once a petitioner submits a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the petitioning institution may decide to intervene and solve the complaint with its own personnel or refer the petitioner to a different governmental or petitioning institution. This governmental institution may on its turn send the complaint back to the institution where the complaint was initially submitted.

Petitioning institutions have several roles, besides processing petitions. Petitioning institutions may also mediate, investigate and if its a high level petitioning institution, it may also provide advice to lower level governmental or petitioning institutions.

The petition system is complex, but it has several advantages as well.  The list below provides a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the system.

The Advantages the Petition System

  • The officials at the petition institutions are obligated to submit their analysis of incoming petitions to high-ranking government authorities. Through this mechanism authorities are notified of existing structural problems.
  • The flexibility of the petition system allows authorities to use their discretion in dealing with the petitions.
  • Petitioning is strongly embedded in the Chinese culture. Citizens are used to this type of conflict resolution.
  • It allows citizens to participate in the political arena through voicing their grievances in the form of petitions.
  • The petition system provides an accessible form of conflict resolution for those who would otherwise not have access to other, more expensive, legal tools.

The Disadvantages the Petition System

  • The petition system is a complex maze of procedural rules.
  • Currently the petition system is overburdened with the amount of petitions that are submitted each day.
  • There is no clear-cut path through which petitions can be processed. Petitioners are often shuffled from pillar to post and have to wait several years before their petitions are handled.
  • Governmental authorities are weighed down by the large amount of complaints that are submitted every day.
  • The local authorities are reluctant to inform regional and national authorities of complaints as they are often reprimanded for possible faults.
  • Governmental authorities are allowed to send the petition back to the institution where the petition was initially submitted. This institution may, on its turn, refer the petition to another government institution without reviewing the content of the petition. This creates a vicious circle for a lot of petitioners.

Mapping out the Petition System

The regulations and literature illustrate that the petition system is a complex and chaotic maze of procedural rules. Mapping out the petition system from the perspective of ‘the user’ could help to make sense of this puzzle and locate the problematic areas of the system.


The figure at the top represents the potential petitioners. The multiple layers of the petition system are abstracted into three categories, namely: local, provincial and national. Each of these levels is further abstracted into multiple petition institutions (denoted as xinfang on the maps) and organizations. Organizations can be either governmental authorities or judicial courts. Each of these organizations is associated with at least one xinfang institution. This institution can be a separate institution or attached directly to the organization itself.


There are often multiple valid ways a petitioner could access the system. For example, a petitioner could start the petition at either the local level or at the provincial level.


Vicious circles are easily produced by the petition system. A xinfang institution could refer the petition to an organization that on its turn could refer the petition back again to the initial xinfang institution. This creates a vicious circle of no resolution.


Petitions at a local level can be forwarded to xinfang organizations and institutions at a provincial level. Once the petition is at the provincial level it can be referred back, by either the xinfang institution or the organization, to the local level. This creates another type of vicious circle for the petitioner.


Vicious circles can also be established by institutions on the same horizontal level. In the picture illustrated above the petitioner submits the petition to a governmental organization on a local level. This organization forwards the petition to a local xingfang institution on a higher level. The petition is then referred to a petitioning institution on a lower local level, which on its turn refers the petition back to where the petition was initially submitted.


There are multiple ways through which similar petitions could travel through the xinfang system. These similar petitions are reviewed separately by different xinfang institutions. This creates uncertainty for petitioners regarding the outcome of petitions.


The same problem can lead to complaints submitted by multiple people. Even if these complaints are exactly the same, they still have to be reviewed separately, which puts unnecessary pressure on the xinfang system.

After locating the pressure points

By mapping out the petition system from the perspective of ‘the user’, the path that the petitioner has to take becomes clear. The images above illustrate that there are several vicious circles a petition may get stuck in. Various mechanisms can be applied to these pressure points to break the circle. These can be legal, tech or design solutions. In this particular comparative research project I looked at how the Ombudsman could elevate some of the pressure points I mapped out. I will elaborate on this once my paper is published. However, the essence of this part of my research project was to examine the legal system from the perspective of a user. Design-thinking allows us to see, in this case quite literally visualize, the obstacles that ‘the user’ comes across. Naturally, solutions are important as well, but they are of no use if legal professionals and academics use a top down approach to implement changes. Legal systems have to be mapped out through the eyes of ‘the users’ in order to find effective and efficient solutions.

Project Details 
This blog post is a heavily abridged version of my research project. 
It will be edited throughout the next few months 
with more examples and illustrations once the paper is published. 
Status: finished 
Publication: in progress

Copyrighted by Nóra Al Haider 2015


Data Mining Rule of Law in Hungary

If you could have any superpower in the world, what would you choose?

That’s the question I ask people whenever I have to explain what data mining is and why it is so useful. The two most common answers to that question are flying and reading thoughts. It is quite clear why human beings are so fascinated by flying. Few things would feel as amazing as soaring through the air, but why is reading minds so intriguing?

It is not that hard to figure out an answer to that question. Reading thoughts would give us an insight into the inner world of a person. Stripping away the facade and socially desirable behavior allows us to understand and anticipate the actions of others. (Un)fortunately the great minds of this world have not figured out a way to give us these superpowers. However, social media does take us a step in that direction.

Social Media: the gateway to reading thoughts?

Social media allows us to post our uncensored thoughts, free from public inhibition from the privacy of our homes or any place in the world for that matter. Although the tide seems to be changing as people are starting to realize that their online actions can and at times do have real life consequences, the online world is still perceived by many as a separate entity from public life. It feels very private to write something on your phone or computer and send it out into the world. You don’t dwell on the fact that millions of people can read your most intimate thoughts, because those people are not standing in your room looking over your shoulder while you type something up.

And sure, most of the thoughts that people have are not that spectacular. Mundane tidbits about what we are going to eat next or whether we left the stove on occupy most of our thoughts. This is also evidenced by the amount of pictures of food that can be found on social media. However, people also use those channels to voice their unfiltered opinions about every topic under the sun. Including politics and legal matters. During the Arab revolution for example, social media was a safe haven for citizens to not only organize meetings but also (anonymously) voice their opinions.

Data Mining: collecting information

Recent years have caused a surge in the amount of data available on the Internet. This data can be used to extract information regarding a variety of topics. In order to distillate in-depth information from a set of data, a more powerful tool than the standard database query is required. These more powerful set of techniques are collectively called data mining. Data mining provides a way to find hidden information in a dataset. In particular descriptive data mining techniques, visualizations, can be used to help analyze large sets of information.

The question that was on my mind while thinking about data mining and social media is whether I could leverage these tools for the purpose of analyzing legal questions. Most of the research conducted at that time focused on privacy issues concerning data mining, but I wanted to see whether it was possible to utilize the information to analyze legal topics. In the end there were two specific questions that occupied my mind: can data mining from social media sources be considered an effective tool to measure rule of law in Hungary and if so, can the results of the data mining process provide improvements and a more detailed insight into the effects that legislation has on rule of law. Before we get to that part, it is important to take a look at the methodology that I set up.

Delineation: making choices

Rule of Law

The legal topic that  I chose as the topic to data mine is rule of law. I had several reasons to pick rule of law. First, rule of law and access to justice are two topics that have always fascinated me throughout my studies. It is my personal belief that a lot of complex legal questions in essence always come back to the concept of rule of law. Second, rule of law is a concept on which many people unknowingly voice their opinion online.  Third, I was inspired by the work of the World Justice Project (WJP).

The World Justice Project

The World Justice Project gathers and analyses information regarding rule of law through questionnaires in different countries. Through collecting data the WJP creates a Rule of Law Index that provides an insight to how rule of law affects ordinary citizens in various countries. However the work of the WJP has some drawbacks. The data sent in by the respondents on which the Rule of Law Index is based is limited compared to the data that can be found on social media. The answers of social media users are less guarded and politically correct as they provide their opinions anonymously in a casual setting. Furthermore, opinions of Twitter users are far more open-ended regarding subjects relating to rule of law then even open-ended questionnaires allow. Tweets can be phrased and formulated in any particular way. Rule of law could be mentioned in various settings that the questionnaire would not anticipate. Another aspect is that these questionnaires can take a long time to conduct and evaluate. In contrast to Twitter which could provide a real time measurement of rule of law. Finally, performing questionnaires by polling stations and experts in multiple countries is expensive. On the other hand, access to tweets is free and therefore cost savings can be made by using Twitter as a data source.


Both Twitter and Facebook are frequently used social media channels in Hungary. I used Twitter as the source to data mine, for the simple reason that most Facebook accounts are restricted due to privacy settings.


There are several reasons why I picked Hungary as my case study. The country that should serve as the population group cannot be a country with a very strong adherence to rule of law, as it is essential that some discrepancies can be analyzed through data mining. On the other hand, it can also not be a country with an extremely bad track record when it comes to rule of law, as there should be a quite an open and democratic society for people to voice their opinions freely.

To identify such as country I used the Rule of Law Index created by the World Justice Project. This index assesses a country’s adherence to rule of law. The World Justice Project scores countries between the numbers 0 and 1. Zero indicates the least adherence to rule of law, while 1 indicates the most adherence to rule of law. Hungary’s rule of law index is 0.58, which indicates and index number which is right in the middle of the spectrum. Therefore, adhering to the criteria laid down above, Hungary would make an interesting case study. Another important criterion was for the author to understand the tweets in the original language. I’m fluent in Hungarian, which made the choice clear cut.



Legislation related to rule of law is used as the main measurement point to derive  overall conclusions from the data. The dates and occurrences on which the legislative act was enacted is used to highlight and measure the effects of rule of law in Hungary. For example, a possible effect would be a case where Twitter users would vent their possible fears and frustrations if a law would restrict certain aspects of rule of law. For delineation purposes only Hungarian legislation was taken into account.

The Definition of Rule of Law

The goal of my research was not to find a new definition for rule of law. Plenty of researchers and professionals have racked their brains on a single defining definition of rule of law. In stead I compiled existing definitions of rule of law that were defined by various institutions. These institutions represent various actors who have to deal with the concept of rule of law on a professional level.



Keywords were then extracted from these definitions through a set of rules that were defined in my methodology and can be read in my paper. I might post the rules and the full list of keywords here once the paper is published. I ended up with 84 keywords that were used to data mine Twitter. The results of the keywords search on Twitter were raw HTML files.

Converting HTML files

These raw HTML files were then converted to JSON objects through a Java application. JSON objects contain all the relevant information of a tweet.

The relevant elements of the Tweet in this case were

  • Username
  • Text/Content of a Tweet
  • Date
  • Retweet
  • Favorites


The tweets were then put in an Excel database. A number of fields, besides the relevant elements above, were added. Most importantly the relevancy category. This criterion aims to denote its level of relevancy with regards to rule of law concepts.

Relevancy Extraction

The relevancy extraction is aimed to identify information about how relevant a tweet is. Although having found the tweets based on a keyword search raises, by definition, the likelihood of the tweet relating to the concept of rule of law, this fact alone not sufficient. Search algorithms are not perfect and due to the fact that the research is novel, no previous data exist with regards to how accurate such searches are for retrieving tweets with regards to rule of law. In addition, some tweets can be seen more relevant than others: if a tweet specifically identifies a law relating to rule of law in Hungary then that gives more information to work with for interpreting the results than a tweet just mentioning rule of law.

I set up four different categories that can be given to the relevancy (or the lack thereof) of a tweet. I will update my portfolio with this part of the methodology once my paper is published.

For every tweet examined there was one and exactly one relevancy category that it could fall into. While the above criteria could be straightforwardly applied in many cases, there were also a number of scenarios where the distinction was not so clear cut. Nonetheless the goal was to categorize such occurrences in a methodical way, to ensure that consistent categorization was performed for all tweets. A list of rules was set up that were used to decide in which relevancy category a particular tweet would fall. This list of rules can be found in the paper and I might make it available here once the paper is published.


For a number of keywords where this set was deemed too large, a sampling method was employed to perform the analysis with the given resources in a way that would give statistically significant results. The calculations for sampling were based on the formula provided in the article of Krejcie & Morgan ‘Determining Sample Size for Research Activities’. The formula can be seen below. For determining the chance of a certain type of answer the results of the largest non sampled keyword set was used. In this case this formula applies to a population of tweets for a certain keyword. For this project the margin of error in samples used is 5% with a 90% confidence value. For generating the samples a random number generator was used, based on the number of tweets for the sampled keyword.


In this formula: n is the sample size, z is the standard deviation at a certain confidence percentage, N is the size of the population, P is the chance for a certain type of answer and F is the margin of error.

Visualization Extraction

Several descriptive visualization techniques were used to interpret the data sets. For every keyword a swarm chart (alternatively known as swarm plot) was created using the Seaborn visualization packages. This visualization allows for an overview of all the relevancy categories of the tweets mapped out over the time span of the tweets. The other visualization technique that was used is a word cloud created using the word_cloud Python package. This package was used to create a visualization based on the text of the tweets, in particular the frequencies of the words. In order to get the cleanest results a set of Hungarian stop words were used, in addition to a number of keywords in the technical domain to avoid frequently used technical phrases on the web, such “http” occurring in the visualization. In addition to these visualizations, the more commonly used pie chart was also used to denote the ratios of relevancy categories in a keyword directly. These visualizations, along with the raw categorized data sets, were used as a basis for interpretation.


In total this meant for each of those 84 keywords three visualizations were made per keyword: one swarm chart, one pie chart and one word cloud. This meant that the total number of visualizations was 252. I might put the visualizations in some form in my portfolio once my paper gets published, but until then I picked one keyword to show the readers in depth what the end result of my work was (please see below).


The interpretation step used the visualizations as well as the raw data sets for legal analysis.

Threats to Validity

As with all empirical research it is important to note possible threats to internal and external validity. There are several considerations that one has to keep in mind. Two of the main research considerations will be stated below.

Population considerations

The population of the Twitter users in Hungary are not the same as the general population as a whole. The age of the Twitter user group in Hungary and the category of people who are willing to comment on rule of law matters fall within the scope of a certain group. This issue is however mitigated due to the fact that Twitter is widely used in Hungary, and the platform is by its nature open, meaning that Twitter users would feel at home giving their opinions on the platform, likely even more so than in any other public setting.

Correlation versus causation

This research will use temporal aspects of the tweets occurrence in analysis in correlation with legislation. Causal links between legislation and tweets directly can be hard to draw due to the fact that events outside of the scope of the examined tweets can not be eliminated. However we can enhance the strength of the correlation by examining multiple keywords relating to rule of law. In addition, due to the large period of examined tweets, a good baseline could be established for rule of law related tweets without that particular event.

Alkotmány: the Constitution

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I picked the keyword Alkotmány (the Constitution) to illustrate the results of my work. The keyword Alkotmány (the Constitution) had 129 results. Of these results, 68 tweets were categorized as relevant, 0 semi relevant, 25 not relevant, 32 were categorized as erroneous, and 4 were categorized as not clear. There were no semi relevant results as the keyword literally means the Constitution, and the Constitution is a law that is immediately placed in the relevant category as it fullfills the criteria set out in the methodology.

The swarm chart depicts frequent relevant results in the year 2011 and more specifically, an immense amassment of relevant results at the end of the first quarter of 2011. In 2012 there are almost no results on this topic with the exception of one. The year 2013 provides more frequent relevant results, while in 2014 and 2015 the frequency lowers again. The questions that now arise are: what happened in 2011 that caused a surge in relevant tweets and why did social media users react so fervently to this keyword? How come the frequency of relevant hits died down after 2011, and most importantly what were the changes regarding the Alkotmány keyword that shook up the public so much that a reaction on social media took place?

A first glance at the database regarding the relevant tweets of the first quarter of 2011 shows, that most of these relevant tweets are linked to events where the public discusses the new Constitution that will be introduced. The relevant events indicate that social media users expressed their worries regarding the effects that the new Constitution would have on various topics, such as: abortion, the introduction of the euro in Hungary, and fundamental rights in general. Furthermore, many tweets refer to demonstrations and protests taking place against the introduction of this new Constitution. alkotmanytimeThe annotated swarm chart seen above explicitly denotes where the important events in 2011 took place. In this swarm chart vertical lines were used to indicate events that took place with regards to the Constitution. The new Constitution was drafted on the 14th of March 2011 and adopted by the Fidesz/KDNP majority in the parliament on the 18th of April 2011. One can clearly see a concentration of relevant tweets regarding the keywords Constitution between that time period.

At this point, my research project continues by connecting the results of the data mining process with legal research. I will update this page with the analysis once my paper is published.



As mentioned earlier when I came up with the idea for this research project two questions popped up into my mind. One of them was whether it would be even possible  to conduct data mining in order to extract knowledge from Twitter regarding the concept of rule of law. The research project has illustrated that it is indeed possible to data mine Twitter for keywords that can be linked to the concept of rule of law. However, there are some aspects that one has to keep in mind in conducting this type of research.

Although data mining was used to extract information from Twitter several aspects of the research process had to be conducted manually. For example, the data had to be analyzed and categorized in a separate database. This meant that every individual tweet that was data mined had to be manually analyzed and categorized. There are options to automate this part of the process, however, this falls outside the scope of a legal research project. Nevertheless, data mining keywords related to the concept of rule of law did succeed in measuring rule of law in Hungary. It is a cost efficient and relatively fast way to measure the public’s opinion on social media regarding the concept of rule of law in real-time.

The second question that I was wondering about when I set up this research project was whether  the data mining process could provide insights to the effects of legislation that can be connected to the concept of rule of law. The results of the data mining process illustrated that there was a large influx of tweets in the first quarter of 2011. The surge of tweets in that time period indicates that the public was fervently reacting to the implementation of the new Constitution. Authorities could dismiss these tweets as mindless chatter on the Internet as they do not realize that valuable information, opinions and knowledge is shared by the public regarding the concept of rule of law on that platform. My legal analysis (which I will elaborate on in my paper) indicates that the fact that the Constitution was adopted in such a short period of time, created such a change in the concept of rule of law that it did not go unnoticed by the public. In this case tweets did not describe what a Twitter user had for breakfast that day, but rather tweets about the essence of a legal society were sent out into the world. Data that is extracted from Twitter can not just be dismissed as mindless chatter. It can also be an important tool for the public to react to various events – including events that relate to rule of law.

In my paper I use the analogy of an old Hungarian folktale. That well-known Hungarian folktale describes a father, either a king or a shopkeeper depending on the version of the story, who requests his three daughters to describe their love for him. The first two daughters compare the love they have for their father with that of the riches of the earth. The third and youngest daughter compares the love that she has for her father with that of salt. Offended, the father, exiles his daughter. On her travels she meets a young nobleman, they fall in love and marry. After hearing the story about his wife’s exile, the husband concocts a plan. He invites the father for a feast, but makes sure to not serve any salt in his dishes. During the meal, the father grows remorseful as he remembers how he reacted towards his daughter’s comment. To the father’s surprise, his daughter enters the room and they reconcile, as the father now understands the significance of comparing her love for him with salt. This seemingly unimportant social media tool can be compared to the salt as described in the Hungarian folktale. Twitter, like salt, is used by ordinary citizens. It would at first glance be considered as a superficial and unimportant platform, however this research project illustrates the importance of this tool. Both for citizens to voice their opinions regarding rule of law, but also for authorities to hear what the public has to say about legal matters that affect the daily lives of people.

Project Details
This blog post is a heavily abridged version of my research project. 
It will be edited throughout the next few months with more examples and 
illustrations once the paper is published.
Status: finished
Publication: in progress

Copyrighted by Nóra Al Haider 2016


Innovation through Recycling


I often say that we do not need to reinvent the wheel every single time we want to innovate. We need to introduce concept of recycling to innovation in law. There are so many concepts, tools, services and technology in other fields that can be applied to the legal field. At the same time, concepts and tools that have been developed in the legal field are fit to be used in other areas after some tweaking. Instead of wasting valuable resources on trying to create something new, let’s re-use each other’s work more.




There are some great legal platforms out there and I’m sure that many will be developed in the future that will truly bring about change in the legal field. However, some legal platforms feel redundant. Not because they do not work well, but because they do not reach their intended audience. I understand how hard it is to connect a new platform to an audience, but I do not think that building a new platform for the sake of having a shiny new website, app or tool should be the focus of legal tech.

Legal tech should first and foremost be about the user and the legal problem. Yes, tech should provide an efficient and innovative solution, but it should be a user-centered solution. If people do not flock to the latest legal platform then we should look at existing platforms that already have massive amounts of users and discern whether legal tech and design can elevate legal problems that people are discussing online.

One of these existing platforms is Reddit. Reddit can best be described as an online message board where people can post text, images, links, etc. Subjects are categorized in subreddits. One of these subreddits is reddit.com/r/relationships. As the name already implies, this is a place where about 1,201,271 subscribers post their problems regarding relationships. Divorce is an often discussed topic on this subreddit in both the submissions as well as the comments.

The goal of this project was to build a Reddit Divorce Bot. Bots on Reddit are automated software agents that create certain programmed actions when a prompt is provided by either a user or a keyword. The initial idea was to build a bot that will provide open source information regarding divorce once it is prompted by certain keywords.


Building the bot was easier than I expected thanks to PRAW. PRAW stands for Python Reddit API Wrapper and allows developers to easily access Reddit’s API. An API is a way to interact with an application. Through the use of programs, code information from Reddit can be requested and sent back. Easier put, an API allows you to engage in a conservation with an application. In my case I needed to ask Reddit to send me information that my bot on its turn will use to further engage in a conversation with the application. The API allows you to request information from the application and receive, process and send back information to the application.


PRAW allows developers to easily access that information. The documentation is especially useful for bots as it describes what the specific classes are that you need to put in your code to engage in a conversation with the Reddit application. I will not get into the specific details of how to write a bot as there are countless amazing tutorials out there. A good tutorial is of importance, but the process of building a product, especially one that needs to handle natural text information, remains a question of trial-and-error. Below, I have described the main (pain) points that I came across while developing the divorce bot.



One of the most important things to think about is the keyword that the bot will use to scan posts. I decided to start with the keyword ‘divorce’. My plan was to further delineate the keyword if this particular word resulted in providing too many hits. Luckily, the keyword was perfect for my intended use. It did not result in either too many or too few hits, however there were other difficulties I experienced while building the bot.

The first version

My initial idea was to let the divorce bot respond to the original poster (OP) when the original post mentioned the keyword divorce. After letting my bot run for a bit, I realized that my initial idea did not what I intended it to do. I quickly realized why.


My objective is to provide legal tools to people who are considering or planning a divorce. People who have relationship problems do not immediately mention the keyword divorce in their initial post submission. Most of the OPs who mentioned  divorce were either talking about family members or a divorce that has happened in their past. So there were two paths I could now take, either adjust the keywords in my code or focus on the commenters. I decided to pick the latter as implementing every possible combination of keywords pointing out that someone wants to get a divorce is not practical.

The second version

Instead, I came up with a shortcut. My bot relies on commenters replying to the OP’s question or story. Actual human beings scan the post and already determine whether divorce might be an option that the OP has to take a look at. Once the commenters determine that divorce might be a good option for OP’s particular story, they mention the word divorce in their comment. My bot searches for this keyword and then replies in that topic with useful legal tools.



So now that the bot is up and running the next step sets in. I have to analyze the results and the posts of the bot in order to further develop and improve it. My analysis will also help me to understand what kind of resources would be most beneficial to users who click on the resources.

So let’s get to the (big pink) elephant in the room, the only thing I haven’t discussed yet: the legal resources. Well, this part is quite extensive and involves a whole lot of legal design. I’ll be therefore discussing and showing the results of my divorce bot in the next post.