The use of social media is rising around the world, but as government restrictions on traditional Venezuelan media tighten, professional journalists and citizen reporters are increasingly turning to social media, especially Twitter, to transmit and track the news.
Venezuela has about 2 million Twitter users, or about 8 percent of the population. That gives Venezuela the highest Twitter penetration in the region after Uruguay, according to local research company Tendencias Digitales.
“The government tries to silence bad news, and that’s why social networks are now playing a big role,” said Luisa Torrealba, coordinator of the Venezuelan branch of the Institute for Press and Society. “They are an escape valve to allow people to learn what’s going on.”
Or, as Miguel Henrique Otero, editor of the Caracas daily El Nacional, said: “With so much self-censorship in Venezuela, Twitter represents freedom of expression.” Often, Venezuelans pass on information and learn about events, such as power outages and oil spills that the government is not eager to publicize through Twitter, Facebook posts and blogs.
But the government is also using social media to promote its agenda and to attack its critics. President Hugo Chávez Frías’ Twitter account now has more than 3 million followers, while his ministers regularly announce new measures via Twitter. More ominously, prominent journalists and opinion leaders have had their Twitter accounts hacked, in many cases by a mysterious pro-government group called N33.