Monday, December 13, 2010

On how to foster unrest in a whole country through only one tweet

It seems like a very ambitious goal, but apparently, it is dreadfully possible indeed. The venezuelan government, for what one can assume from its recent policies regarding the use of internet, believes that a single twitter user, with a hundred followers or less, can destabilize an entire political system.
In the last year, citizens have been detained for tweeting about the banking system, for going around saying they want to see the president dead, and for taking pictures of the deterioration of the capitol’s subway system. Their very brief detentions haven’t reached international media, and in appearance, have had only the intention to weaken public opinion and promote self-censorship. In the meantime, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez, opened a twitter account and promoted an image of openness and accessibility, a very incongruous one in fact.
However, last week things seem to have gotten darker: The Venezuelan vice-president has filed before the National Assembly a bill that proposes a wide reform, under which an administrative organ, Conatel, would have competences over the Internet. Conatel, dependent to the Ministry of Communications, is a bureau created in order to regulate all content transmitted in national television and radio. Among all rumors flying over the net and traditional media this last days, it has been said that the law would make extensive the so-called “time slots” to the Internet, regulating which content is accessible according to the new regulations regarding matter of language, sex and violence.
As if that’s not enough, the law contemplates the creation of a national Network Access Point, being controlled by Cantv, the government owned ISP. Cantv has a long story as an untrustworthy service provider, being blamed for diverse website blockages through the last years; the most recent one, a Wordpress “blackout” that lasted two days, coinciding with the elections performed last September 26th.
If we compare the actual influence of a twitter user like @leaoxford, who was detained last July because of a tweet that “caused destabilization of the national banking system” –and is now under probation-, a very simple procedure that can be done using Twinfluence or something similar, we can easily establish that in real world, Leo Acosta Oxford could have mobilized, in best case scenario, a manifestation of 50 people or so. Or, what is the same, none of us even knew who @leaoxford was before he was imprisoned. A person, in order to cause public distress through a web service like twitter, would need to have a lot of personal influence (which means, to be someone like @NelsonBocaranda or @AlbertoRavell), and even in that case, s/he might as well use any other way of communication, like newspapers or television: it’s not about the media, but about the message and the person, and still, the government wants to avoid that ordinary people goes around saying stuff online. And this is the government that, allegedly, wanted to give a voice to people who hadn’t been heard before. This, people, is what Internet does: that every person –with internet access, and that’s a horse of a different color- can speak out their mind, not only those with certain privileges, social position or political affiliation.
As I’ve said before, power is not frightened by people but ideas. I can only wonder how unstable is actually a government that gives that kind of importance to 140 characters or less.

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