Latin American Presidents Love Twitter, and That's Dangerous


Twitter is an interesting platform for politicians. The blossoming social media site allows for real time, direct communication, without intermediaries — an ideal concept for an ideal direct democracy. Twitter expands politicians’ outreach and engages the public opinion in political debate. And Twitter also offers some of a politician’s personal side, often the cool and classy, but sometimes the regrettable as well.

It is safe to say that in its seven years of existence, Twitter has established itself as a political force. But nowhere has it made more of an impact in political action than in Latin America.

Before his untimely death, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was second in the world only to U.S. President Barack Obama in number of followers with an overwhelming 4.25 million. His neighbor to the south, President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, rattled off a whopping 61 tweets in a nine-hour period earlier this month when the citizens of her capital city, Buenos Aires, took to the streets to protest her government and its state-run programs. Even out of office ex-President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe is quick to share his criticisms of the current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos via the world wide web, sometimes rattling off dozens of tweets a day, pinning the new president for his inadequate approaches to security and his other shortcomings.

So this saturated fountain of information, this accessible and democratic contact to the inner workings of politics and politicians in Central and South America is good, right? It’s progress? Well, while the liberal use of Twitter probably is the path the whole world is eventually heading down, Latin America’s leaders’ overuse of the site may be a bit too much for the world to handle just yet.

Most of us who have Twitter accounts can confess to having been too quick to post a thought or commentary at some point, just trying to get that ever important Tweet count up. I know nobody really cares what type of wine I use to cook my beef, but I also know that my personal contribution to the public realm is limitless, so why not let the world know? Well, my world consists of 204 people right now, a laughable .0006% of Obama’s 30 million followers. So when I announce something irrelevant, it can be easily brushed aside.

But when Cristina Fernandez lets us know that she’s eating a sandwich, it’s less passable. In fact, she marginalizes her intensity and her focus as a political leader with such throwaway comments. And worse, when Chavez lets slip his perception of Bush as the “devil” or when Henrique Capriles calls new Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “illegitimate,” childish name-calling games between politicians are brought to the worldwide stage.

The main issue is that most of these Latin American political leaders are writing their Tweets themselves. In contrast, President Obama only sends some of his tweets himself, signing them "-bo." Instead, White House aides construct the majority of his feed. As of Friday, he hasn't sent a personal Tweet in over a month.

Maybe all these Latin American presidents need is a personal Twitter account to release all of their pent-up anxiety regarding making sure the public knows about the sandwiches they eat, and then another, more professional, Twitter feed that they can use to keep their public politically informed. Because if they continue the current trend (ha!) of overly intimate tweets, they will find a quick slip in the legitimacy of their presidency as well.