Ecuador’s Correa Recruits Legion of Social-Media Trolls
Español Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has declared war on his critics on social media.
On Saturday, January 24, President Correa announced the launch of a new website designed to investigate and respond to social-media users that “attack” or “defame” his government.
Correa’s New Weapon: Somos +
In order to confront what the president calls a “systematic smear campaign” from Ecuador’s opposition, Correa unleashed the website Somos + (We Are More), presented during his weekly radio and television address Citizen Link.
According to the president, Somos + is the administration’s response to the many critical comments he receives on his official Twitter account from people who “abuse the anonymity and freedom that the social networks provide.”
“We are confident that we are doing the right thing. People cannot insult or defame in the name of freedom of expression,” said Correa.
Correa supporters who sign up on the website will receive updates when a Twitter user “smears” the government, so they can respond and “support the Citizens’ Revolution.”
“If they [the president’s critics] send out a tweet, we will send 10,000 tweets calling you a coward,” said President Correa.
During his televised address, Correa went further by identifying his Twitter critics by their full name, along with their photo, age, and the city where they live. He warned that anyone who “slanders” the government will be exposed.
“Let’s see if these cowards who hide behind anonymity to insult and defame remain as brave when their identity is known,” Correa said.
— Presidencia ECU (@Presidencia_Ec) January 25, 2015
“With #SomosMás, we defend the truth on social networks. Sign up here: somosmas.ec.”
The president defended his policy by suggesting that contrary to what the “corrupt press” might say, similar efforts are undertaken in other countries. He referenced the cases of Jarvis Britton and Donte Jamar Sims, two US citizens who were sent to prison for assassination threats against President Obama via Twitter. “This is called rule of law, don’t be ignorant,” Correa said to the would-be critics of his plan.
The president then invoked the Paris shootings that occurred earlier this year to drive his point home.
“If France had the laws we have, then perhaps [the shooters] would have sought justice in court, and the violence wouldn’t have happened.”
Correa said his government is officially waging a “battle for truth,” and followers of his Citizens’ Revolution will be ready to respond to social-media critics with “the truth.”
“We will not allow a few liars … to dominate us,” said the president.
The War on Memes
In recent days, the Facebook page Crudo Ecuador (Raw Ecuador) has become the center of Correa’s social-media battle.
Created in 2012, Crudo Ecuador dedicates its page to political satire and regularly publishes memes that are critical of President Correa, his administration, and other important political figures in the country.
“Justice now belongs to us all. If newscasters publish a criminal’s face, they pay a fine. But if the king does it…?”
During his Citizen Link broadcast on Saturday, January 17, Correa assured his supporters that Crudo Ecuador is part of the same “systematic smear campaign” his government faces on social networks. The president claims the Facebook page is paid for by the opposition as part of their “conservative restoration,” and will be investigated.
“Do not let them fool you … We live according to what we say and what we think,” Correa said to his audience.
Correa told his supporters his administration had come up with a plan to counter these “attacks” on social media.
“We can have 10,000 volunteers say to this person [the critic], ‘that’s enough, support the president and the Citizens’ Revolution.’ Whenever we find this nonsense, a message will be sent … so people can refute the many lies and abuse on social networks.”
On Friday, January 23, local newspaper El Comercio published an interview with Crudo Ecuador’s website administrator, who remains anonymous.
The administrator denied receiving any funding from the opposition, and even acknowledged having voted for Correa. “I see many positive things about Rafael Correa, but my page is called ‘Raw Ecuador.’ The point is to try and see beyond the things are spoken or made.”
“It might annoy the president, but [criticism] is something he should be willing to receive. Even the school president must endure criticism for the things he says!” he argued.
“He talks about how we get into his private life. I don’t do any of that. I don’t criticize Rafael Correa as a citizen, but as Rafael Correa the president.”
When asked about the actions that the government plans against him, he said he felt both frightened and angered over Correa’s accusations of opposition funding.
“I was outraged, because he said that I’m paid off, or that I’m part of some intelligence operation…. People go looking for trouble where there is none. How many times has he said these things about others?”
Despite the government’s threats, Crudo Ecuador thanked the president for the attention he has given the page. Their social media following has seen a considerable boost since Correa singled out the account out as a target.
The Twitter account for Crudo Ecuador has documented several threats they have received from other users since Correa’s announcement.
@CrudoEcuador mañana pondré denuncia para q se investigue supuesta amenaza, q importante seria q ningún canalla se esconda detrás d troll
— José Serrano Salgado (@ppsesa) January 26, 2015
“@CrudoEcuador Tomorrow I will file a complaint to investigate the supposed threat. How important it is that no scoundrel hides behind trolls.”
José Serrano, head of the Ministry of Interior, tweeted that he will investigate the alleged threats against Crudo Ecuador, so that “no scoundrel hides behind trolls.”