23 de mayo de 2019
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Hispanic World

Venezuela social networks, strange combination of reality, hyperpolarization

Jose Luis Paniagua

 Photo taken April 13, 2019, showing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivering a speech in Caracas during the celebration of the 17th anniversary of the failed coup d'état against his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. EFE-EPA/ Miguel Gutierrez

Photo taken April 13, 2019, showing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivering a speech in Caracas during the celebration of the 17th anniversary of the failed coup d'état against his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. EFE-EPA/ Miguel Gutierrez

Jose Luis Paniagua

Caracas, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- The social networks are one of the best examples of the political and verbal hyperpolarization Venezuela is experiencing but not the best reflection of reality in a country where many people resort to them to inform themselves and conduct their day-to-day affairs.

A monkey's face is the calling card for Don Corneliano II, a Twitter user with 68,000 followers and a very clear political slant.

La Divina Diva, a "blond non-influencer," as she touts herself, has more than 56,000 followers, including Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jore Arreaza and the head of the opposition-controlled Parliament, Juan Guaido.

These are just two of the players in what is a growing trend in Venezuela, where the social networks inform people on traffic conditions and buying opportunities, give them an opportunity to vent and to acquire the latest news.

For some, this is nothing more than one of the consequences of the journalistic crisis in Venezuela, where the media that formerly served as news sources have dissolved or disappeared in recent years.

Others see the social networks as a way to find out what's not being said elsewhere, but almost everyone agrees that these online clubs are one of the elements of the country's polarization.

"The news ecosystem in Venezuela over the past 20 years has transformed itself in practice, it's been deteriorating, a process that has proceeded in parallel to the deterioration of the ... journalistic profession," the coordinator of digital communications at the Real Instituto Elcano, Venezuelan citizen Ivanosca Lopez Valerio, told EFE.

At this point, Venezuela has moved from a press that was almost fully in the hands of anti-Chavista forces to a news panorama where the overwhelming majority of media outlets orbit the Nicolas Maduro government.

Lopez Valerio said that the "disempoverishment of the Internet connection" on recent years has had an effect on the mobile telephone medium, which is particularly relevant for the use of the social networks.

Why do users without any kind of clout transform themselves into people with influence and news providers for thousands of people? That is one of the key questions that circulates within this unusual environment.

"People follow me for what I write, quite apart from who I may be, who is writing and that's good. It's the idea, the content that's at the center of things. The account could be called 'The One-eyed Hunchback' and it would have basically the same number of readers," La Divina Diva told EFE in an interview - and why not? - via Twitter.

"It gives importance to what people write to me, what they answer. It's not a bot for news or opinion ... Interactivity is important for humanizing things," she said.

And does anonymity have something to do with it, too?

What is certain is that, except in the case of public, professional figures or identified institutions that use the social networks to send their messages, a name on a social network doesn't guarantee that a user is even real.

"The issue of anonymity is unsolvable, given the nature of the medium, and it seems to me that it has a positive side that impedes censorship... The negative side, obviously, is the offenses, attacks, etc. that some crazy people do ... and which we've been the target of on Twitter," she acknowledged.

La Divina Diva said that "polarization sells more" and emphasized that "Twitter is configuring itself as an archipelago, with people on islands where they read and reinforce each other."

In the face of that, she said, her account "is a deliberate and conscious effort to try not to be on an island but rather to create a bridge between islands."

Lopez Valerio said that "the networks have contributed to polarizing people's positions."

"Really, it's a way of reaffirming yourself in what you're thinking or reinforcing what you believe that can be a political way out because that, too, is being noticed a great deal," he added.

Andres Cañizalez, an expert in communications and a researcher for the Andres Bello Catholic University, said that "Venezuela's Twitter doesn't represent Venezuela."

It's all about - he said - "theories" that have an impact and mix with toxic messages, insults, speculation and wishes.

"They don't correspond to a majority view but rather to the ability to impose" one's views on others who are online, he said.

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