The Ecuadorian Government’s use of social networks in its battle against the press is not new. Since the emergence of public officials and institutions on Twitter, especially after the police revolt of September 30, 2010, hostility against the media and journalists has been played out on this stage. One recent episode was instigated by President Rafael Correa, who has called followers to join the “battle on social networks” at least four times in the last year alone.
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For the first time, however, there are now statistics to illustrate this strategy. A new study by Fundamedios, entitled the Ecuador Media Observatory (OME for the Spanish acronym), found that between June 2012 and November 2015 there were 1,384 offensive tweets and retweets against the press and 3,108 against opposition politicians and civil society. The study, the first of its kind in the country and the second in the region, analyzed a sample of 27 accounts belonging to 13 public officials, 7 ruling party congressmembers, a high ranking Government leader and 6 public institutions. From each of these accounts, selected for the number of Tweets and followers, 3,200 Tweets were monitored.
When analyzing the authorities’ discursive resources (i.e. the characteristics of a series of phrases used to argue a point of view), four categories can be identified: absolute truth; double standard; where they stand and what they say; and insults and slurs.
For example, 74% of the registered tweets and retweets sought to deny news stories or attack and criticize media content; 12% claimed that the press used a double standard when disseminating information; 8% used pure and hard insults against private media; 1.08% ridiculed the reactions of agencies and social organizations regarding the work of the press; and the remaining 4% referred to issues that do not fall into the above categories.
The new research by Fundamedios, based on a previous study by IPYS Venezuela, seeks to contribute to the analysis of official discourse against the media. Social networks, in this case Twitter, are just one more cog in a set of government mechanisms against freedom of the press, including the Communications Law; the weekly presidential broadcast; and the abuse of media corrections and replies.
TWEET-O-METER ON GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTS
The ranking of the 27 analyzed accounts reveals that the top ten spots are occupied by officials or former officials of major Government entities that manage communication policies, such as the Communications Secretariat (Secom); the Council for the Regulation & Development of Information & Communication (Cordicom); and the Superintendency of Communication (Supercom). President Rafael Correa also occupies one of the top places alongside three of his closest ministers (Guillaume Long, Vinicio Alvarado and Jose Serrano), two pro-Government congressmembers (Maria Alejandra Vicuña and Rosana Alvarado), and the Executive Secretary of Alianza País, Doris Soliz.
The Ecuadorian Government’s Twitter battle against the press is spearheaded by officials who have held positions in the administration of public communication policies. They are Fernando Alvarado, former National Secretary of Communication and now Minister of Tourism; and Roberto Wolhgemuth, former Representative of the Autonomous Decentralized Governments of the Regulatory Council of Communication (Cordicom), now National Intergovernmental Undersecretary.
Ecuador is not the only country in this situation. The Tweet-o-meter study by IPYS Venezuela, which analyzed messages from Government officials between 2013 and 2015, revealed that that the top ranking spots were occupied by William Castillo, Director General of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel); and Delcy Rodríguez, former Minister of Communication & Information.
And this is not the only similarity between the two countries, whose leaders both appear near the top of their respective lists. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa took third place with 119 tweets against the press.
In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro stood in fourth place with 23 messages, i.e. the Ecuadorian President posted five times as many offensive messages against media and journalists than his Venezuelan counterpart during roughly the same period.
Moreover, according to Fundamedios’ data, the Ecuadorian President was responsible for 225 alerts on freedom of expression. This figure makes him the person on the list with the highest number of cases attributed to him. He is also the official who has issued the most insults and disparaging comments against the press, the opposition and citizens, especially during his public address every Saturday. In that arena, his references to the media have become famous epithets: corrupt, hypocrites, cavemen, cowards, liars, politicians masquerading as journalists, scoundrels, cynics, manipulators, mediocrities, ink assassins and coup leaders. He has broken seven daily newspapers, rejecting certain publications.
In June 2014, Correa pushed through and approved the Communications Law, known as the ‘gag law’, which endorsed numerous disproportionate sanctions against the media.
In 2015 the President declared war against the press and his opponents on social networks, ordering his supporters to discover and pursue the anonymous administrator profiles of Facebook pages such as Crudo Ecuador (a site of political satire and memes).