Latin American leaders crazy about Twitter

2013-11-07 13:15
Twitter. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Twitter. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Montevideo - They make serious statements, blasting US spying or claiming disputed territory. But they get personal too, musing about things like flowers. Among Latin American leaders, Twitter is red-hot.

President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff are keen users of the popular messaging service, which is preparing to go public, likely this week.

Twitter "is a very appealing platform for politicians because it transcends borders", said Maria Elena Meneses, a Mexican expert in digital culture from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

"It is a rather receptive network for political propaganda and the positioning of world leaders."

Maduro's government fires off an average of 40 tweets a day, often talking up what it considers significant achievements.

Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) is the regional leader with the most followers at 2.1 million, according to the PR firm Burson-Marsteller.

Maduro has accounts in four languages, and the one in Spanish (@NicolasMaduro) has 1.4 million followers.

Still, that fan base is dwarfed by the wild following of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March - 4.5 million people follow @chavezcandanga.

Rousseff (@dilmabr) is one of the most influential leaders on Twitter, according to the Twiplomacy 2013 study by Burson-Marsteller.

'A broadcast strategy'

Twitter is a great way to interact with people but most Latin American leaders use it to talk up things their governments have done, said Meneses.

Maduro, for instance, sends many messages a day announcing measures, making promises and claiming successes.

Ditto for Kirchner and Rousseff, as well as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose handle @EPN has been up and running since 2007, or the leader of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, who communicates via @sebastianpinera extensively when he travels.

In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos speaks out from @JuanManSantos.

Santos "uses social media as a broadcast strategy, but not as a strategy of communication or dialogue", said Elias Said Hung of the University of the North in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, on the other hand, is the most chatty, from his handle @MashiRafael. Twiplomacy says 83% of his tweets are responses to other users.

But Twitter is also good for settling scores, says Meneses.

Mauricio Vasquez, of EAFIT University in Colombia, says social media sites provide a way to denounce offenses and seek action, so a lot of leaders use them to discuss controversial topics.

Rousseff has used Twitter to denounce US electronic spying against various governments including her own.

"The right to privacy cannot be subject to arbitrary interference, as shown by the complaints of espionage in countries such as Brazil and Germany," she tweeted on Saturday.

In July, when some European countries closed their air space to a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Russia over suspicion that US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden was aboard, several presidents took to Twitter.

"Our solidarity with Evo and the brave people of Bolivia," Correa tweeted.

Kirchner launched a similar message, and has also used the medium to thank countries for supporting Argentina's drive to recover the Falkland Islands from Britain.

Private life, Twitter-style

But the leaders also get personal.

With Twitter, "politicians and artists want to be celebrities, they want publicity and to make themselves known through social media," said Vera Chaia, an expert in media and political marketing from Pontificia Catholic University in Sao Paulo.

For instance, Maduro has published photos "waiting for the rain in the mountains, doing exercise, strengthening his physical and spiritual health."

Pinera has shown himself surrounded by his grandchildren at a zoo and "feeding the lemurs," or recalling to his followers the children's movie "Madagascar."

Last Sunday Rousseff fired off six tweets about two books on orchids that had been given to her by her environment minister, including links to photos published on Instagram.

And Kirchner, newly a grandmother, back in November tweeted photos of her grandson Nestor Ivan and said Pope Francis, who is Argentine, had given the child a pair of shoes.

"How about that?", Kirchner wrote.

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