viernes, febrero 25, 2011

Twitter in Argentina: A Political Battleground

Transcribo una muy interesante nota  de Hugo Passarello Luna que leí en The Argentina Independent.

Twitter in Argentina: A Political Battleground

by Hugo Passarello Luna, 27 January 2011 en The Argentina Independent

Last July an Argentine citizen told his local congresswoman: “What a pity you are using your position to defend a media group that collaborated with the dictatorship”. “What a pity you are using Twitter to insult, idiot” the representative swiftly answered.

The exchange of attacks did not happen in the real world but in the virtual microblogging community, known as Twitter. It took place during a time of growing tension between the government of President Cristina Fernández Kirchner and the main national media groups over a new media law passed by the administration over a year ago.

On the receiving end was Silvana Giudici, a 43 year-old congresswoman of one of the main opposition parties, the centrist Civic Radical Union (UCR for its name in Spanish). On the other side was a lay Twitter user. Giudici did not support the law; the user wanted her to do so.

Twitter is quickly growing in the country: the number of accounts increased by 2,500 % in 2010, according to Nathaly Fruson from the social media analyst Grupo EcuaLink. Together with Brasil, Venezuela and Mexico, Argentina has led the regional boom of Twitter during the past year. And the potential for further growth is still strong: more than two thirds of the Argentine population now has access to internet, according to web analyst company Royal Pingdom.

With a heavily politicized mainstream media and the presidential elections coming up this year, Twitter has become one of the main political battlegrounds in Argentina, often directly between politicians and citizens. However, these communications are not always constructive, and sometimes degenerate into a simple exchange of insults and slanders.

Despite their differences, Argentine politicians from all over the spectrum are aware of Twitter’s role as a communication tool, even if they are exposed to embarrassing comments. President Fernández has an official account together with the majority of her cabinet. The opposition is also present: in March 2010 the UCR hired Juan Ignacio Belbis, a new media consultant to manage the party’s national Twitter strategy. “It is a media that opens a direct channel of communication and interaction with the citizen. It allows you to develop bonds” says Belbis enthusiastically. However he warns that “politicians will have to put up with insults and slandering. It will happen and it is part of Twitter’s dynamic.”

His point of view is shared by Fernando Amdan, another digital media expert hired in March 2009 to run the president’s party’s (the Justicialist Party, PJ) Buenos Aires’ Twitter account. “Twitter is like an anarchic forum, everybody can answer to everybody. There is debate, it is participative, transparent and horizontal.”

With tensions growing between the mass media and the PJ, Twitter plays a crucial role in the government’s communication strategy with the citizenship. “Even though mass media is still crucial, there is less need for the middleman” says Amdan.

However, this in this ‘free for all’, there still remains the issue of bellicose users and offensive messages. “You have to answer,” suggests Amdan “You have to provide always the space to create dialogue. But, that said, a politician should not reply to insulting messages”.

The national secretary of culture, Jorge Coscia, is just one high profile user to follow this advice: his bio section in Twitter does not tell about his background but instead reads: “I accept debates but I block those who offend and insult, especially those hidden behind pseudonyms.”

A similar strategy is employed by PRO, a center right opposition party. “If they attack and are disrespectful, we do not answer. If they insist, we block them” says Juan Gabriel Gentile, who manages the Twitter account of Congressman Federico Pinedo, one of the leading figures of the PRO party. “If the user creates controversy, we attempt to end the altercation, sending the least amount of messages possible. The key is not to tire the rest of our audience” says Gentile.

However, the fog of the Twitter war makes it difficult for all political figures to listen to their digital consultants and remain calm when attacked. “Twitter is immediacy, you receive a message and you react in the moment. The reaction and the answer that follows are related to whatever you are experiencing in that moment.” Whatever congresswoman Giudici was going through last July, it prompted her decision to reply the Twitter assault.

Skirmishes like this one are expected to multiply with the presidential elections ahead, next October. Belbis grins when he says “We are going to see some nice battles on Twitter.”

Hugo Passarello Luna is a journalist and director of Argentina Elections

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