The Twittersphere is known for a lot of things - but using it as a battlefield seems like an oxymoron. Yet, that seems like the case, now that the likes of the socialist President of Venezuela has joined its ranks. Long known for fighting opponents aggressively in the real world, Hugo Chavez is now seeking weapons of virtual destruction.
To counter his drop in popularity amidst a severe recession, he will now fight his rivals online. According to his Public works Minister Diosdado Cabello, "Chavez' supporters plan to take over "by assault" on Twitter and Facebook. And just to show he means business, his twitter handle "@chavezcandanga" includes the name of the 'devil.'
Long known for his long-winded speeches and TV addresses, it will be interesting to see if the South American leader can confine his vitriol to 140 characters or less. His first tweet in Spanish was posted shortly after midnight on the morning of April 28: "Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!"
Hugo Chavez' first tweet
By 6:00 AM ET, the president had more than 28,500 followers and was registered on 703 group lists. He, himself is only following one Twitter account and that dubious honor goes to ÜberTwitter, the Twitter client developed especially for BlackBerry devices.
Serving as Chavez' spokesperson, Cabello was adamant about his 'comandante' taking charge in the social media space. " While, "the opposition thinks it owns the social networking sites (and that) Twitter and Facebook belong to them… we're fighting, and there are 7 million of us who will have Twitter," he says.
However, as self-proclaimed sheriff of Twitterville, Chavez might want to show what he's made of-- by crushing one his Twitter detractors - an impostor who is presently
doing nothing to help his image.
Hugo Chavez Impersonator tweet
Hugo Chavez making a TV addressAccording to a Guardian report, Twitter's popularity in Venezuela has exploded to more than 200,000 active accounts exceeding last year by 1000% - giving Latin America's highest per capita rates of usage.
So from monologues that have been known to exceed seven hours, amounting to 54,000 words or the equivalent of a romance novel, it will be interesting to see if Chavez' editing powers can also turn Twitter into the necessary propaganda machine to fight on the field of social networks.
It's somewhat incongruous that a vehicle as "social" as social networks are - are now being used by a dictator like Chavez to battle in his words, "media wars," on a platform where his social revolution will create a "bombardment." And then there's that issue about being in league with the "Devil." I guess if you leave the barn door open wide enough, there's no telling who might come a tweetin'!
As Rory Carroll from the Guardian so aptly put it: "Think of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, or an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, or pushing a giant round peg into a tiny square hole," and you end up with a Hugo Chavez trying to take control of the Twittersphere.
UPDATE: May 9, 2010 - According to a BBC report, the Twitter account of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has become the most popular in Venezuela, with more than a quarter of a million followers. Mr Chavez says he has hired 200 people to read through the many messages he receives on the social networking site.He says over 18% of the messages he receives are hostile. He deals with the negative messages by laughing them off or sending back jokes. "I don't care," he said, "it's a form of contact with the world."