Why Venezuela's Revolution Will Be Tweeted

The country's street protests are playing out dramatically on the social network.
A protester in Caracas holds a banner that reads, "Don't kill the hope," with an #SOSVenezuela Twitter hashtag. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

We can't seem to agree about whether social media fuels, merely facilitates, or actually hinders protest movements. But in Venezuela, where five people have now died in political unrest over soaring inflation, widespread crime, and chronic shortages, Twitter is undeniably serving as a parallel platform for protest. Its dueling hashtags echo the dueling demonstrations in the streets.

In a country with one of the highest Twitter adoption rates in the world, and at a time when independent Venezuelan news outlets have been muffled, the social network has become a critical forum for political activism.

For evidence, just compare the timeline of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chávez's handpicked successor, with that of opposition leader Leopoldo López, the primary organizer of the student-led protests. Maduro's Twitter feed is a frenetic mix of threats to his "fascist" rivals, exhortations to carry out Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution, and retweets of messages from sympathizers (including, eerily, a series of tweets written by Chávez shortly before his death last year). López's is more spartan—informing supporters about the logistics for marches and urging them to fight non-violently for human rights.

The Democracy Report

In a dramatic showdown on Tuesday, López led a rally in Caracas before handing himself over to authorities to face terrorism charges. Mash up the two Twitter feeds in the days before the arrest, and you get the impression of two camps approaching one another for an epic clash—a kind of West Side Story rumble. I've included translations in bold above each tweet.

Maduro: "Leopoldo López, coward, fascist surrender because we are looking for you!"

López: "I tell you Maduro, you are a coward. You are going to break neither me nor my family. To my family: strength, I love them."

Maduro: "Tomorrow we will have a work day in the Federal Council of Government to implement the actions of the National Plan for Peace and Coexistence."

López: "The government is increasing repression to sow fear. Tomorrow we leave peacefully at 10 AM. We'll see each other [at the starting point for the march] in Chacaito!"

Maduro: "All day I will be at work in Miraflores, the House of People's Power Governing and protecting the Peace from the attacks of Fascism."

López: "Let's all go in white to the first point. Then I will walk alone. I will not put the life of any Venezuelan at risk. Venezuela Strong!"

 

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Uri Friedman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Global Channel. He was previously the deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

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