Hugo Chavez Takes Up Fight On Facebook

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is fighting a global Facebook campaign against him with an anti-American Facebook campaign of his own. Host Liane Hansen talks to Foreign Policy blogger Evgeny Morozov about the dueling social media campaigns.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Colombia and Venezuela have gone to war - on Facebook. Young Colombian professionals who started a Facebook campaign last year against the guerilla group known as FARC, have now turned their sights to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

President Chavez has countered the group's campaign against him with one of his own. He's been using Facebook to denounce Colombia over its plans to allow U.S. bases there and to send the U.S. a Yankee go home message.

Evgeny Morozov wrote about the dueling Facebook campaigns last week on his Net Effect blog on the Foreign Policy magazine's Web site, and he's in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. EVGENY MOROZOV (Writer, Net Effect Blog, Foreign Policy Magazine): Thanks for inviting me.

HANSEN: Tell us about the organizers of the campaign on both sides of this issue.

Mr. MOROZOV: Well, the Colombians have been experimenting with Facebook for over a year now. So, those young professionals, as you've mentioned, some of them have connections to Venezuela, but most of them are just sympathizers with the opposition in the country. And the person who was most active in the pro-Chavez camp is a Venezuelan-American lawyer actually based in New York City. So, it's interesting how two conflicting foreign camps were actually acting it out on Facebook over what was happening in Venezuela.

HANSEN: So, President Hugo Chavez isn't personally using Facebook?

Mr. MOROZOV: We don't know. I mean, he has these very active and long speeches. So, on Sunday, he actually denounced the anti-Chavez campaign and said that everyone should join his own. And he stated that everyone should participate in pro-Chavez marches and rallies, which were also being planned for the same day. So, I assume there is participation from his side. He actually, in the past, he called this lawyer a Venezuelan sweetheart. So, they're definitely very cozy with each other.

HANSEN: How many leaders of nations are using Facebook or other social media platforms for propaganda purposes?

Mr. MOROZOV: Most of them are present in some form. What's more interesting is the undercover activity that is happening. There are many bloggers who are not that actually tied to politics, for example, who are often pushing the messages the way that the government asked them to push.

So that we see that happening in Russia, we see that happening in Iran, particularly on religious issues, where the Iranian clerics actually are on government-sponsored workshops, which train clerks how to blog. There is even a bureau for the development over blogging in Qam(ph), the religious center in the country.

So, a lot of this is happening, but it's happening through undercover and often not very visible means because the government would also like to deny that they're actually funding it, because otherwise it would look like propaganda.

HANSEN: Is it effective?

Mr. MOROZOV: I think it is effective. Again, it varies from country to country, but the fact that it's not directly tied to the government makes some people think that, you know, it's what the current consensus in society is like. So, if you have 1,000 people who are being paid to promote a particular ideology, but they don't disclose that, you know, people who are not yet decided begin to think that, well, the government position's actually much more popular simply because there is so much popular support for those positions online.

HANSEN: But these are government controlled. I mean, state media, for example, has traditionally been government controlled. And, you know, you have newspapers like Pravda.

Mr. MOROZOV: Yes.

HANSEN: So, do you think that the social networks serve as a platform for the Pravdas for the 21st century?

Mr. MOROZOV: They do. I think they are the new Pravdas of the 21st century, in part, because they remove this immediate association with the state. Because when they read Pravda, you know, pretty much most people in the Soviet Union knew what Pravda was about. They knew that everything they did there they had to discount.

When you read a blogger who is not affiliated with anyone officially, you don't know whether you can trust him, whether he is on the government's payroll, whether he's on the corporate payroll, whether there is someone else paying them, right? So, immediately you have to try to figure out where they feel politically, where they stand, and it just takes time and it takes much more time to discount their position than it takes to discount Pravda's.

HANSEN: Evgeny Morozov writes the Net Effect blog for Foreign Policy magazine, and he joined us in the studio. Thanks so much for coming in.

Mr. MOROZOV: Thank you very much for inviting me.

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