#OcupaINSS vs #AmiNoMeEngañaLaDerecha: What Twitter data show (preliminary observations).

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)

Image

  • 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.

Other observations:

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:

  1. Nicaragua’s Senior Citizens Fight for Pensions.
  2. Sandinista Thugs Attack Elderly in Nicaragua.
  3. Catholic Church Denounces Mob Violence.
  4. Embassy Warns about Pro-Government Protest.
  5. Pension Protest Leader Appears at Sandinista Rally.
  6. Elderly, Gov’t Reach Agreement: No Pensions
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Pink nightmares

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has been a behemoth in the fight against breast cancer. This week, though, SGK is in the middle of a PR nightmare regarding its decision to discontinue its support to Planned Parenthood. According to the Komen’s founder and CEO, the decision is not politically motivated. It has nothing to do with abortion, but everything to do with a policy changes meant to ensure “you are granting money to the right people.”

In this case, the right people are those organizations who are not under “formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties by local, state or federal authorities,” reports Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. 

On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable policy. Why would anyone want to fund questionable organizations? However, Goldberg’s probing reveals a political agenda. Indeed, this decision was about severing ties with the most important provider of reproductive health services in the United States. These services, of course, include abortions, and Komen finally decided to veer openly to the right on this controversial issue. Komen applied its new policy to PP, which has been the target of a congressional inquiry since September because, according to Representative Cliff Stearns (R), the organization might be using federal funding to pay for abortions.

However, this entire prologue is not the reason I’m decided to write this piece. What makes the Komen vs PP debacle interesting to me is its social media dimension. It makes me wonder whether or not organizations like Komen take social media seriously, or if they merely think of it as an additional outlet for their press releases. You see, before the controversy exploded, Komen’s Facebook page was a bulletin board. The organization would post news tidbits, like this one

After Komen made its defunding of PP public, though, anger flooded its Facebook page. These comments were added to Nancy Brinker’s birthday thread after the announcement

Komen is the latest public entity to suffer the wrath of social media users. Yes, that wonderful outlet works so well in the PR mix also makes it very easy to express dissent, discontent, and outright fury. More importantly, it increases the speed of protest, as Andrew Rasiej of New York Tech MeetUp pointed out to TheWrap

“There’s a new political and media ecology that social networking provides and it’s not controlled by the mainstream media […] It’s controlled by citizens who are able to wield power at a speed that has the mainstream media, the politicians and the institutional players in shock.”

Often, media analysts point out that the power of social media lies in its ability to organize dissenters. However, we should also look at social media’s ability to aggregate discontent. Indeed, we can’t think of this backlash as the result of an organized effort. We should look at it as the result of decentralized actions that coalesced because of social media. We use the social web to connect with each other, but connecting isn’t just about sharing pictures of our pets. We share information, we comment on Facebook pages, we use hashtags, and we spread of memes. The savviest organizations and individuals know how to channel these routine activities into movements. Yet what the organizers of virtual protest really do is guide our clicks in the desired direction. That’s very different from asking us to occupy a public park. Clicking, using a hashtag, signing a petition, changing our profile picture, or sharing a picture costs us very little effort, yet the cumulative effects can be very powerful. Planned Parenthood understood this much better than Komen.

I took this screen capture from Planned Parenthood’s album on Facebook. It was shared over 22 thousand times. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood added this picture below to the album, after Komen reversed its funding policy changes and apologized to “the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”

In comparison, what was Komen doing with their social media? According to Kivi Miller, during the initial stages of the crisis, “The only Komen action on their Facebook page had been to delete anti-Komen comments, so the ratio of negative to positive looks more like 10 – 1 instead of the 80 – 1 (and even higher this morning) on Twitter.” Aside from that, Komen carried on as it would under normal circumstances. For example, as Miller noted, Komen re-tweeted a report from FoxNewsLatino on January 30.

Komen did not address their funding decision on Twitter until February 1, when they released Nancy Brinker’s video statement (posted above). Worst of all, Komen’s Twitter feed today had been dedicated to debunking a supposed partnership with Discount Gun Sales, to market pink handguns for the cure.

Now that Komen has reversed its funding decision, they will have to re-build their brand. The damage is significant, judging from some of the reactions posted to their Facebook page. The damage has nothing to do with breast cancer, or Komen’s mission. It has everything to do about their abandoning their primary focus, breast cancer prevention, awareness, and funding for research.

Before the PP debacle, I counted Komen as one of the savvy organizations. Their pink ribbon campaigns and partnerships were Facebook darlings. In fact, you could say that Komen took Facebook Pages best practices guide to heart. It uses its page to  “join the conversation, share their stories, and build a meaningful dialogue with their supporters and volunteers.” Unfortunately, Facebook’s handy guide doesn’t address the other side of the meaningful dialogue, the fact that it is public, and that involves people, not sheeple. The lesson here is that one should never assume “Facebook Likes” mean complete agreement with every policy decision.

Death by Twitter

On Saturday, January 22, Onward State “killed” Joe Paterno. It took two tweets: The tweets have since been removed from Onward State’s feed.  The image above is a screen capture I took from Poyntner’s account of the incident. According to Poyntner, the timeline is as follows: (1) Onward State reports Joe Paterno’s death through twitter. The site subsequently goes down, apparently over flooded by incoming traffic. (2) 94.5 FM breaks the story on its own, but credits no sources. (3) CBS picks up the scent. They tweet a link to Joe Paterno’s obituary on their site.  It’s off to the races at that point, as the Huffington Post, Anderson Cooper, Poyntner, and Breaking News redistributed the story. What do all these sources have in common? None of them tried to confirm the reports before clicking the “tweet” button. Joe Paterno, as it turned out, was not dead yet. Paterno’s son and a spokesman for the Paterno family denied the story.

https://twitter.com/markcviera/statuses/160904588176793601

The question is, how could this happen? Shouldn’t professional journalists know better than to parrot anything from Twitter without checking?

Well, media do know better. As Eric Wemple points out, we should give “Bonus points for all the outlets that didn’t take the bait.” The AP wire, for one, did not take the bait because it couldn’t verify the original report. After all, when your source is Twitter chatter, you should be wary. Didn’t Jon Bon Jovi get the death by twitter treatment last December? As it turned out, Jeffrey Goho, a musician most of us had never even heard of before, started the rumor using Twitter. This time, established media outlets did nothing, that is, until Bon Jovi debunked the Goho’s hoax with a selfie.

So, what’s the difference between the Bon Jovi hoax and Paterno’s death by twitter? What made CBS hurry, when we all know that exaggerated rumors about celebrity deaths are a recurrent theme on twitter?

Here’s one possible answer: It’s all about the source. Granted, I’m not up to date on student run blogs. I had never heard about Onward State. This does not mean that the site isn’t a legitimate news source. Indeed, the site has been profiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Mashable as an up and coming student blog to watch. More ironically, though, US News and World Report described Onward State as being “as new as Joe Paterno is old.” Ouch!

But, what does this tell us about Onward State? It says that, up until the evening of Saturday, January 21 of 2012, Onward State was not seen as a little fringe blog. It was a little blog that could play with the big boys and girls of journalism. Unfortunately, today is January 22 and things have changed. Now, Onward State has become an example of how not to be a journalist.

My colleague, Andrea Duke, characterized Paterno’s death by twitter as one of those moments that remind us of the “whoops power of social media.”  She writes,  “You CANNOT report hearsay.  You CANNOT report assumptions.  You CANNOT report news that may or may not be true JUST to be the first to report it”

Yes, and this is also one of those moments in which we should reconsider how news is reported. We do rely on established news organizations to give us the facts, which means that we trust them to fact check. In this sense, Onward State is not the only outlet at fault. They made a huge mistake, and they have apologized profusely for it. In fact, Onward State has published two accounts of what happened, and how it happened. In one, the site’s founder, Davis Shaver, describes the controversy as “one of the worst moments of my entire life.” In the other one, managing editor Devon Edwards announces his resignation. He writes,

“I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State might be cited by the national media. Today, I sincerely wish it never had been. To all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for having mislead you. To the Penn State community and to the Paterno family, most of all, I could not be more sorry for the emotional anguish I am sure we at Onward State caused. There are no excuses for what we did. We all make mistakes, but it’s impossible to brush off one of this magnitude. Right now, we deserve all of the criticism headed our way.”

By comparison, this is what Mark Swanson of CBS Sports had to say:

Really? One paragraph is all we get from CBS? That’s unfortunate, and it’s shameful. Sadly, I don’t think anyone expects Mark Swanson to step down as managing editor of CBSSports.com. Fortunately for him, the blame can be shifted to a student run blog, whose own managing editor admits he made a huge mistake.  Edwards writes, “getting it first often conflicts with getting it right.” What’s CBS’ excuse? Why were they more careful about reporting Peyton Manning’s alleged retirement (breaking news, according to Rob Lowe), than when they decided to run the Paterno story? An answer like, “because Paterno was actually dying, and Rob Lowe doesn’t have Manning on speed dial,” does not exempt a news organization from its duty to fact check

Getting it before CNN does not beat getting it right, or at least trying to get it right.

On Sunday, January 22, 2012, Joe Paterno did pass away. Last night’s odd turn of events has become a footnote to a long career. Yes, he had triumphs, and also scandal, but this post isn’t about Joe Paterno’s career. This post is about last night. Frankly, I could not help but think of other times news media has gotten it wrong. I thought about Dewey defeats Truman, but more importantly, this story reminded me of the 2000 election miscall. Four years after one of “the most egregious election-night gaffes in the modern television era,” television news anchors were more than cautious when calling the 2004 election for Mr. Bush.

That probably explains how the Washington Post used Twitter to announce Mr. Paterno’s real death this morning