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Is Social Media a Fixture or Fad in Latin American Politics?
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Lun, May 24, 2010

(*) Artículo publicado por The Inter-America Dialogue´s

Is Social Media a Fixture or Fad in Latin American Politics?
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez last week launched a Twitter account, with one close ally saying the president's followers planned to 'take over by assault' social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, which have been employed more actively by Chávez opponents. What role do you see social media sites like these playing in Latin America's political scene in the coming years? Will they become a fixture, or are they merely a passing fad? How important are these technologies to engaging Latin America's youth in the political process?


Alberto Arebalos, director of corporate communications and public affairs for Latin America at Google: "In recent years, we've seen social media usage and influence exploding, to the extent that it can no longer be dismissed in any sphere. More than 72 percent of Latin American Internet users are connected to at least one social network, and people are spending more and more time interacting and accessing content of all kinds via social media sites. Politically, we've already seen in Colombia, the United States and elsewhere that social media has a widespread and powerful impact that cannot be ignored. Present indications are that social media is a growing trend, not a passing fad; individual sites may burst onto the scene and later wane in popularity, but they are replaced by newer or more innovative social media sites.


What we are seeing in Venezuela confirms social media's mainstream significance. While in several cases 'underdog' groups have successfully used social media to increase cause awareness or voice dissent, mainstream parties and governments are now realizing that they must also treat social media as an important political channel. An increasing number of today's youth are growing up 'online.' They are familiar and comfortable with social media interactions from an early age, and therefore will be more likely to become involved in politics via social media than any other type of forum. Social media use by established governments and parties need not weaken its potential to create positive change or to make the opinions of the populace heard—but the debate will be as complex and multi-voiced as Latin America itself."


Lucas Lanza, director of ePolitics Consulting in Argentina and president of the Information Society of the Americas Foundation: "So far, we haven't seen any foundational moments that would define the beginning of a new way of doing politics in the region using these new media. It's quite paradoxical that the one who has invaded this new digital space is none other than Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—together with his guerrilla communications army—in order to strengthen communication and links to citizens (both locally and globally). Paradoxical or not, Chávez's move has gotten tongues wagging, and it is helping to convince Latin American politicians to stop ignoring these new interactive channels and incorporate them into their campaigns, communications and relationships with the electorate. Social networks and Web 2.0 are definitely not a passing fad. The new generations are immersed in a multimedia context that is revolving more and more around social networks, in new ways of communication such as text messages and social networking tolos that are proliferating throughout the Web every day. These new generations are having a growing impact on the electorate. Young people have always been an attractive constituency for politicians; therefore, now more than ever it's key to understand this phenomenon, not just by learning the new code of communications, but also by managing these new channels where information, conversation and influence circulate freely. Social media is already becoming an important part of the 'media mix,' of convergence strategies in political campaigns and of government communication. The question for open debate is whether these new technologies will increase citizen participation, make governments more open and contribute to an improvement in democracy in Latin America."


Daniel Castro and Scott Andes, senior analyst and research analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation: "As businesses and politicians alike have found, social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter provide an unprecedented opportunity to gain real-time, unfiltered access to the public. The most effective use of social media involves a two-way conversation, and not just a means of getting out a message. Time will tell whether President Hugo Chávez will use the medium to truly engage with citizens and whether they will listen. However, the early signs are impressive—if the reported figures are correct, after just two days he had more than 100,000 followers on Twitter and after one week he had more than 200,000. Engaging in online forums like this allows more people to participate in the political process. Without these types of online forums, there are few opportunities for political participation by homebound senior citizens, busy parents and full-time workers who are otherwise unable to attend political events. However, these types of forums also provide an opportunity for tech-savvy, politically motivated interest groups to advance their agenda disproportionately to the size of their membership. Largescale social media projects work well for the dispassionate crowd, but not as well for the passionate mob—the loudest voice is not always the one government should be listening to. But if actions like this lead to more openness, participation, and civic engagement, this will have a positive impact on politics in Latin America. It is also important to remember that Twitter is only one of the many Web 2.0 tools available to government officials to reach citizens. By employing Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, online videos and forums many governments have taken e-government to a new level. "


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is published every business day by the Inter-American Dialogue, Copyright © 2010

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