Before April 2018, there was talk of politics, but entertainment was the predominant topic.
By Mildred Largaespada (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan’s topic of choice on social media is food. They post what they’re going to eat, how badly they ate, what they’d like to eat, what they never ate. They also post how content they feel after eating, and about the food their mothers or grandmothers made for them.
Then there’s the economics of food: how expensive it is to eat, how hungry they feel. Finally, there are intense debates about whether the traditional nacatamales should be eaten with bread or with tortillas.
They talk about food on platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram and Twitter. The theme unites them across ideologies and political parties. These are some of my observations over the last two years, while studying Nicaraguans’ social media communications and changing tendencies.
They also speak about politics
Nicaraguans also speak of politics on the social networks, and their rights as citizens. Here are some notes on that topic:
Within the different communities of interest, they speak of reclaiming their democracy. People call for the release of the political prisoners; they demand the fall of the dictatorship. They call for their right to demonstrate publicly. Those in exile clamor to return and ask not to be forgotten. They insist on transparent elections; they recall those who were killed while protesting.
Depending on the interest groups, some call on the political forces to unite, with an eye towards the upcoming elections. Other, don’t want an unconditional unity at any cost.
Due to the political crisis in the country, it’s all about being on social media. Digital life has been transformed into interminable threads about politics and citizens’ rights. Everyone has a solution to propose. Everyone has an opinion.
In this turbulent sea of opinions and political developments, there are still some whose public voices remain unrecognized. There are others who challenge the abundant “likes” and offer their opinions freely. Yet others develop their political voices little by little. Finally, there are those who’ve found great recognition for their public voices on social media.
Who’s dominating the conversation?
The era of competition has passed. Now, it’s all about coexistence. The former lords and ladies of political communication were the journalists and commentators on the radio, the press, and TV. Today, they peacefully share the social networks with the voices of ordinary citizens. These newcomers often express themselves eloquently and show great skill with digital media.
The media news is read in order to be shared and commented on immediately – for or against. Some of that news succeeds in dominating public debate. Other times, it’s private citizens who capture all the attention, relating events or reflecting on political occurrences.
People rate political analysis and reward it with a “like” and their comments. What we see in the networks is a mere description of politics. Only on a few occasions do we see politics reported and also acted upon. These are two distinct behaviors.
Offering political views
People who offer political opinions after reflecting on their ideas and sharing them, must shoulder the consequences. Their posts will be judged through comments and criticism. There are also those who declare: “We’re going to defeat the dictatorship”, and then sit down to watch a TV series.
Speaking and acting on politics
Some of the people who offer opinions about politics and citizens’ rights, also act in accordance. An example of this are those first young voices from April 2018. These youth declared on Twitter their political demands for the government and called for protests. When the demonstrations materialized, they took part in them, defying the riot squads. Alongside these activists, there are some who view social media posts about politics as a political act in itself. They consider such posts their daily participation, so that the issues don’t fall off the table.
In both behaviors, we should distinguish between those receiving a salary for political posts, and those who don’t. The latter turn to the social networks to express themselves because they are filled with a sense of political urgency.
Before and after April 2018
Social media before 2018 was different from the postings of today. Previously, politics was spoken of, but entertainment was the predominant topic. During the events of April 2018, talk about entertainment disappeared. There was an urgent need to save lives and denounce the killings perpetrated by the regime. As the crisis prolonged itself, little by little users went back to using their social networks for various topics. But they always had a space set asie for their political contents.
The very act of turning to social media to post a political opinion represents an important step for any citizen. It requires the assumption that your political opinions will be valued by the anonymous and diverse users on the networks. This is increasingly important now since a new swarm of users have entered into political participation. I’m speaking of the youth who’ll be voting for the first time.
Further, the contents of the political posts themselves demonstrate giant steps in quality. Many users now note that the question before us involves more than just ejecting the regime from power. There’s recognition that we must create strong public institutions, so that citizens’ rights will never again be infringed.
Due to the regime’s repression of all the public freedoms, users have exercised self-censorship on social media. They’ve created closed groups to protect themselves from threats. Potent voices on politics are found in these groups, but these voices are neither seen nor read by other users.
Paradoxically, the conversation about politics and civil rights has come up against the poisonous culture of discrimination. There’ve been conflicts over sexual preferences, religious beliefs or disbelief, economic origins, skin color, and other things.
Nicaraguans have made many new contributions to political discourse on social media. Perhaps the best of them is the metaphor: “A free country to live”. This expression arose in the heat of the April 2018 uprising. That metaphor, transformed into a political slogan; it represents a break with the national political culture. One of the traits of the latter was the obligation to sacrifice oneself. The famous phrase, “Free country or death”, essentially called for immolation in the name of an abstraction. That phrase has been practically erased from the political conversation. All that’s left is “Plomo” which means “lead” -as in bullets-, reserved for sympathizers of the FSLN and the Ortega-Murillo regime.