Hugo Chavez + Twitter = A Match Made in Digital Heaven

Though he was against it before he was for it, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has now embraced Twitter with glee and vigor, rising to become the most-followed person in his country within days. Of course, Twitter’s a natural choice for a public character like Venezuela’s leader and would-be president-for-life. It’s unfiltered, so there’s no need to deal with those pesky opponents (or worse, journalists) who might add “context,” “interpretation” and maybe even “facts” to the discussion (c.f. Sarah Palin on Facebook). It’s short, so there’s no need to go beyond slogans and bromides. And it has global reach, so maybe actual world leaders will read what he has to say!

Not that he’s necessarily the one saying it — according to the AP, he’s hired a staff of TWO HUNDRED PEOPLE to manage his feed. It’s Twitter as government jobs program, and probably the only part of his policy program that’s actually helping the Venezuelan economy. Way to look out for the little guy, Hugo!


Written by
Colin Delany
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  • Just a few clarifications:

    – President Chavez didn’t hire 200 people to tweet for him, but rather respond to the flood of requests he has gotten since signing up for the service. Many people, both for and against him, have been sending in comments, suggestions, requests, and complaints, and as a consequence President Chavez assigned a team of aides to handle the flow of tweets, especially those pertaining to immediate needs such as health services and housing.

    – President Chavez is actually doing the tweeting, not anyone else.

    – As easy it is to poke fun, it’s noteworthy that President Chavez is one of the few heads of state actually using Twitter to respond to citizens and constituents. Most politicians that use the service only do so as a means to communicate press releases and political messages. President Chavez has fully jumped into the fray and is actually conversing on Twitter, which is the very reason the service exists.

    More details on his tweeting here.

  • Thanks for the clarification. Still, shouldn’t it say something that he NEEDS that many people to monitor the responses? I.e., if so many people need help with “health services and housing” that they flood the president’s Twitter feed, what does that tell us about the state of Chavez’s overall government response to its own citizens? A Twitter feed is nice, but when it immediately becomes a constituent-services helpline, that gives us a hint that maybe something else in the system isn’t working very well.

  • His number of supporters has grown by over 1,000 people an hour since the Twitter feed launched, and the team of aides help track down individuals who request help or have a complaint about government services or institutions. (And to be clear, these aides work in different ministries or institutions, so responding to specific claims is already part of the work they do.)

    Not all of the comments to his feed are requests for help, but some are, much like many letters written to President Obama or members of Congress are request for help on everything from Social Security checks to financial aid for college payments.

    We see President Chavez’s use of Twitter in this way positive and innovative, at least for a head of state. Most elected officials use Twitter in a top-down fashion, merely communicating their message. This is the opposite, with President Chavez actually interacting with Venezuelans and others. (And not all of the people who he interacts with like him!)