On June 17, 2013, a senior citizens’ organization occupied the main office of the Instituto Nicaraguense de Seguridad Social (INSS), the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The group is known as UNAM, the National Senior Citizen’s Union. For at least the past five years, UNAM has been trying to get the Nicaraguan government to grant reduced pensions. By law, Nicaraguans must complete 750 weeks of contributions into the social security system to be eligible for full retirement benefits. UNAM’s membership, by and large, fell short of the goal. Unfortunately, the regulations that would have enforced UNAM’s claim were done away with in the 1990s, as neo-liberal governments were voted into office. However, the Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega, promised to reinstate reduced pensions. They have yet to do so. Now, with Ortega is well into his second term, UNAM’s protest took off. They occupied the INSS.
It is not my intention to review the events of last week, but I have compiled articles published in The Nicaragua Dispatch, which was just about the only news organization covering the occupation of the INSS in English (see bottom of this post). Instead, I would like to address the use of social media as UNAM’s protest unfolded. Two rival groups engaged through social media. The hashtag #OcupaINSS was used by those who supported UNAM in its claim against the government. The hashtag #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha (#RightWingersDon’tFoolMe, henceforth ANED) was used by those who supported the government’s position. Using Topsy Pro Analytics, I tracked the progress of each hashtag during the period between June 17 and June 27. Here are the results:
Total Activity (Green = #OcupaINSS; Blue = ANED)
- In total, people shared over 145 thousand tweets. #ANED generated 80,560 tweets (about 55%), and #OcupaINSS produced 66,198 tweets (approximately 45%).
- During the first days of the period in question, #OcupaINSS had the upper hand. On June 21, #ANED starts trending. It would overtake #OcupaINSS in a matter of hours. #ANED kept the lead for the remainder of the period.#OcupaINSS declined significantly after the government-sponsored rally that took place on June 24.
- #OcupaINSS peaked on June 22, as people shared the news of an attack on the protesters. #ANED, on the other hand, peaked on June 24.
- The most shared tweets for #OcupaINSS and #ANED on their respective peak days are pictured below. The most circulated tweet for #OcupaInss has been shared 295 times as or this writing. It is a message of support for #OcupaINSS. The top #ANED tweet has reached 70 shares. It is a photograph of a group of senior citizens waiting to receive the so-called Solidarity Bonus, temporary, at-will government aid funded with money from ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas). The data from Topsy reflects retweets and replies for the entire sample period.
Topsy Pro Analytics also provides data for potential impressions. The #OcupaINSS tweet potentially garners 592 thousand impressions. The #ANED tweet reached 12 thousand potential impressions. This can be explained by the number of followers each originating account has. @LuisEnrique is a Nicaraguan musician with a well-established international career. He has almost 500 thousand followers on Twitter. @jscomunicadores, on the other hand, is the official Twitter account for the communication’s arm of the Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio, a Nicaraguan political organization affiliated with the Sandinista party. @jscomunicadores has a little over 24 hundred followers. It is safe to assume that most of them are in Nicaragua.
The decline of #OcupaINSS and the accompanying surge of #ANED might be explained by the events themselves, and by organizational factors. The decline of #OcupaINSS activity, for one, could be linked to the rally on June 24. The president of UNAM, Porfirio García, spoke at this event. He stated his organization’s willingness to come to an settlement. As of this writing, the Sandinista government has agreed to meet with UNAM regularly, to provide limited benefits, such as eye exams, to continue the Solidarity Bonus. We can assume that reduced pensions would be discussed, but there is no certainty that they will be granted. From the @OcupaINSS twitter and Facebook accounts, sympathizers greeted the agreement. They issued a statement supporting UNAM’s decision to negotiate, albeit warned that the movement would remain vigilant.
In terms of organization, #OcupaINSS is not an organization in the traditional sense of the word. It is an ad hoc movement that came out in support of UNAM. #OcupaINSS did not trigger the protests in Managua, so it should not be regarded as the Nicaraguan equivalent of the so-called Arab Spring. Rather, #OcupaINSS should be considered as a short-term manifestation of public opposition to the government. The negotiation between UNAM and the government took all the impetus out of the protest. On the other hand, the Sandinista government has a well organized communication machine. This is a long-standing phenomenon. Thus, communication messages can be relayed quickly and efficiently, once a hashtag has been agreed upon. Furthermore, once the hashtag #ANED began trending, continued usage is not linked to any particular event. Even though it is a mouthful, and even though the hashtag uses up 15% of the 140 character limit, #ANED users can keep linking it to any instance where right wing media conspiracies can be implied.
The data at hand is copious, so I can only offer preliminary observations as to the types of messages that each group relayed using their hash tags. I’ll use the data from June 22 as an example, as on this date #ANED’s advantage was 695 tweets over #OcupaINSS. That is as close as these two groups ever came to each other. #OcupaINSS’ top 10 tweets included statements of support by public figures, such as Luis Enrique (musician), Sergio Ramirez Mercado (novelist and former VP of Nicaragua), and Carlos Luis Mejia (musician). The hashtag also accompanied tweets by @LaPrensa, an opposition newspaper, and @Canal2Nicaragua, a television station. The rest of the tweets were issued by @OcupaINSS, a twitter account that was created ad hoc to provide information for supporters of the protest, and private individuals.
On the other hand, #ANED’s top 10 tweets primarily came from the account of Adriana Blandon (@AdrianaBlandon1). This user identifies herself as a college student. She has over 8 thousand followers. There were no identifiable public figures, or news media on the list. However, one of the tweets came from @jupresidente, the Twitter account of the Juventud Sandinista 19 de Julio. Most of the messages indexed with #ANED were statements of support, including the repeated use of the hashtag itself. Since A mi no me engaña la derecha is a declarative statement on its own right, the hashtag could be appended with any further explanation. There was only one informational message, inviting people to attend the rally on June 24.
Some final words:
As I said previously, this analysis is preliminary. I have yet to sort through the data and code it. However, I feel comfortable making some observations. First of all, it is clear that #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha trended stronger than #OcupaINSS. Organizational factors should account for that, as the Ortega government’s communication strategies are not ad hoc. #OcupaINSS is ad hoc, and now that the INSS is no longer occupied, the hash tag has lost steam quickly.
Secondly, #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha is not merely a hash tag. It is a statement, and as such, it can be used on its own, by anyone. The hash tag is not necessarily attached to a particular event, which gives it an advantage.
In third place, the role of mainstream Nicaraguan media is worth noting. Media organizations like @laprensa and @Canal2Nicaragua used #OcupaINSS to index news reports. This might be an issue of convenience, and it is not uncommon. Media organization reporting on events of public importance use the same hash tags as those who are partaking in said events. Here’s an example, from Wired magazine:
In this case, though, @laprensa’s use of the #OcupaINSS tag has another practical effect. It plays into the the narrative of right wing media manipulation because @laprensa is an opposition news paper. @laprensa is very open in its stance against Ortega. The paper commonly identify him as el presidente inconstitucional Daniel Ortega, unconstitutional president Daniel Ortega (see examples here, here, and here). It should be noted that those who oppose the government can also claim that #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha exemplifies left wing manipulation. Without coding the data, I offer no conclusion to support either position.
Finally, if you expect a Nicaraguan Spring of sorts because of social media usage, the events I reviewed here and their aftermath do not support this. Furthermore, social media is merely a tool. It is not a magic wand that creates revolutions and upheavals out of thin air. In Nicaragua, this tool also has limited potential. Only about 11% of the Nicaraguan population has internet access, and those who do have internet usually reside in urban centers. This means that movements that rely primarily on social media exclude more people than they include. However, the most important factor that hinders the opposition’s social media strategies is that they’re usually ad hoc and short lived. They are subject to changes in the political landscape, as everything else is. That is exactly what happened with #OcupaINSS, though some might argue that the movement isn’t dead. I would suggest that movements can only survive if it has long term goals. #OcupaINSS did not. It’s rival hashtag does.
Coverage from the Nicaragua Dispatch:
- Nicaragua’s Senior Citizens Fight for Pensions.
- Sandinista Thugs Attack Elderly in Nicaragua.
- Catholic Church Denounces Mob Violence.
- Embassy Warns about Pro-Government Protest.
- Pension Protest Leader Appears at Sandinista Rally.
- Elderly, Gov’t Reach Agreement: No Pensions
- Eldery of Nicaragua Attacked by National Police and Government Supporters (ireport.cnn.com)
- Nicaragua rushes to fulfill its canal dreams – with a hand from China (csmonitor.com)