Can social networks influence on the results of an election in Venezuela? Two ICT experts agree to state that social networks could play a key role in choosing the eventual winner. But this will depend on how people will join social networks and whether politicians will use social networks, not only as "megaphones," but to get to know voters. These technologies could turn over traditional relations and make public servants and grassroots representatives more transparent and accountable
Philosopher Daniel Innerarity, a scholar with the University of the Basque Country, is worried about people infatuated with social networks. He is afraid that social networks will erase intermediation and fulfill the democratic dream of making decisions without any impediment. Against this backdrop of lights and shadows cast by such uncompleted phenomenon, Innerarity fears that politicians, aware of being continuously scrutinized, will, as opposed to the citizen's ideal, "confine" their stances.
Much has been said about the decisive clout of social networks on the victory of US President Barack Obama in 2008. Again, he made use of Twitter to announce this year on April 5 that he was running for reelection in 2012.
Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus used these tools to put a fight in the election for Colombia's president. But the forerunner in using social networks for election purposes was Rafael Correa in his successful campaign for president in Ecuador in 2006, said Karelia Espinoza (@kareta), a graduate of political sciences and professor with Fermín Toro University.
The blogger, a specialist in e-communication and campaigns 2.0, is certain that Venezuelan politicians, with a few exceptions, "have no idea" of the potential of social networks, and the very few who make use of them "do not talk to their followers." She thinks that the prevalence of social networks is underestimated despite being "more open, horizontal and democratic than any other media."
Raisa Urribarri (@uraisa), a journalist, professor and researcher with Andes University, agrees and notes that most Venezuelan politicians are not aware of the significant role of social networks, even though President Hugo Chávez brought the issue forward. Urribarri noted that Venezuela is the third country with more Facebook users in Latin America; the third country with the highest Twitter penetration in the world and the first country with Spanish-speaking users. People "should get benefit from that connection which takes time, training and devotion," advised Urribari, an expert in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). She recommends analyzing the access-participation-impact triad. "One thing is access to ICT; another thing is using and appropriating it. That is, its strategic use for political purposes."
Are politicians seriously involved in social networks accountable and more transparent?
Urribarri answers that ICTs give citizens "transparency; the chance of having access to information, of examining, auditing." And she added, "Today, politicians and public servants have everything in their hands to report and effectively contact their voters. If they do not do it, is because they do not give a damn or are not interested in."
Karelia Espinoza adds that people should make a decision as to joining the politician's site either as citizens cognizant of their rights and duties or as mere supporters.
"For politicians to be accountable, citizens should require it. Whatever shared by politicians will depend on how their networks consolidate. Only that way, getting involved, we will help make committed, accountable public servants. If we just behave like followers, we will continue contributing to turn the volume of the megaphone up and to have politicians take a reserved stance. Both of them hold responsibility for making politics on the web work."
Can social networks make a difference in a Venezuelan election?
Urribarri noted that in 2012, more than half Venezuelans will have access to Internet. "If they take active part as appropriate, they could significantly influence the results."
In Espinoza's opinion, this already happened in the parliament election of 2010. She explained that Lara is among the states with the largest Internet penetration in Venezuela. After matching data contained in the voters' payroll of that constituency with cast votes, she found "a conscious null vote," attributed to people's power to interact. "A voter's decision presumably taken in advance could change few days before the election if an influencer reveals a piece of information at the very last minute." Based on Espinoza's experience, people who create political contents and related opinions are more valued than postulates."
Both experts think that social networks have not been tapped for nationwide demonstrations and rallies. SMS played a key role regarding the shutdown of private TV channel RCTV, according to Espinoza. For her part, Uribarri recalled the protests against shutdown of 32 radio stations, making use of tag #FreeMediaVe. In 2009, the "Priority Internet" campaign used the tag #internetlujo.
Translated by Conchita Delgado