Fundamedios’ “Tweetometer” monitors official discourse against the press in Ecuador

Through Twitter accounts of officials or public institutions in Ecuador, 1,384 Tweets with speech disparaging, discrediting or stigmatizing the press in the country were published between June 2012 and November 2015.

This was the number cited in the study “Tweetometer: The battle in 140 characters,” which was published by the Media Observatory (OME for its initials in Spanish) of Ecuadoran nonprofit organization Fundamedios on May 17 in observance of the Day of the Internet. To create the study, the organization analyzed 27 accounts belonging to 13 public servants, 7 legislators, a high-ranking political leader and 6 public entities.

According to the study, in addition to the 1,384 Tweets against the press, another 3,108 Tweets similar in type were published through these same accounts against politicians of the opposition and civil society.

President Rafael Correa ranks third among officials with the highest number of offensive Tweets against the press with a total of 119. The first on the list is Fernando Alvarado (449 Tweets), Minister of Tourism, followed by Roberto Wolhgemuth (166), the intergovernmental national deputy secretary.  In fourth and fifth place are Rosana Alvarado (77), the first vice president of the National Assembly, and José Serrano (72), Minister of the Interior, respectively.

The study noted that since the start of Correa's government, he has discredited the role of the press in different scenarios including press conferences, discussions or national broadcasts; and he has even declared it as one of his greatest enemies.

In the last five years, he has also done it through social networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, it was in Jan. 24, 2015 when he declared “the battle for dignity and for truth in social networks” against the press and the opposition during a national broadcast, the study added.

This battle has its own strategy. According to the study, after analyzing the 27 accounts, it found four kinds of statement, or rather “characteristics of a series of phrases used to argue a point of view.”

The four categories are: 1) the official truth, the absolute truth – centered on continuously contradicting the publications of the press that in the official’s opinion are “distorted,” or requests for corrections; 2.) double standards – the accusation that the media has a “double standard” when reporting; 3.) where are they?, what would they say? – comments on how the press might react to certain events; 4.) pure and simple insults and complaints.

The study also found 185 hashtags that accompanied these messages, like #EcuavisaMiente (Ecuavisa Lies), #VendePatria (Traitors), #MediosSinViolencia (Media Without Violence), #FueraGolpistaFuera (Out, Coup leader, out) or #Caretucos (which means scoundrel).

“Social media, in this case Twitter, is only one of a whole set of pressure mechanisms used by the government against freedom of the press, such as the Communications Law, government broadcasts or the abuse of corrections and responses,” the study said.

This is the first study of its kind in the country and the second in the region. The Press and Society Institute (IPYS for its initials in Spanish) of Venezuela also has created “The Tweetometer of the government of Venezuela: Official grievances in 140 characters.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.