“Twitter is terrorism,” Chavez loudly proclaimed in one of his famous radio addresses to the nation, as a bold response to Secretary Clinton’s recent Internet Freedom speech. A few weeks later, and he is now a rising star on the very same platform, known as @chavezcandanga, ie Chavez the devil or Chavez the strong-willed/fearless depending on interpretation. Already, he has 324,788 followers. He has even invited his friend Fidel Castro to join.
Why the sudden change of heart?
Online technologies are increasingly being seen by governments as a weapon. Jared Cohen in a recent speech at the Media & Peacebuilding conversation at the Newseum conceded that the US government did not understand cassette tapes out of fear of wrongful use, and so had no official policy towards them. Leaders like the Ayatollah Komenei on the other hand saw the potential and used them to spread his message into a movement that helped to bring about the Islamic Revolution in Iran. This is why Secretary Clinton engages with new technologies and sent a message to the world that this is in fact a powerful freedom, that will, hopefully, bring benefits that will outweigh the potential for radicalization from the very same media.
Chavez may have just thrown a monkey wrench into that system. Chavez is a master of communication. As a person, he is charismatic and gives compelling speeches. More than can be said for most heads of State, he really does aim to speak to the people of the country, once even giving a televised speech lasting a record-breaking 8 hours. He gives weekly addresses reminiscent of fireside chats. However, he has censored all opposition media outlets who undercut his person. This opposition is not known for its high reporting standards and have often published slanderous if not false reports. But now without any dissent being tolerated, the situation is becoming more dictatorial. Each day, his message is broadcast for 3.5 hours on every channel simultaneously, according to General Director of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) Marcel Granier.
Without media serving as a check on power, the only balance left come from the judiciary and parliament. As President, even as an extremely popular and powerful one, he has only had so much ability to change the laws of the land. Increasingly his people are placed as heads of different ministries, but dissent remains.
Twitter can change all that. Have a problem? Ask the President. Any question? The President can handle it. Need something? The President provides for all. With Twitter’s location-based feature, they can even find you within a 15 feet radius. Instead of having to go through an arduous political process set forth by the constitution, 21st century government means directly connecting the people to one person in one branch of government, the President. Just beware what you ask for.