Seeing this headline at the Newsweek website– "Chavez Twists Twitter Into Tool of Repression"– means you're likely to read the latest dispatch from the magazine's Latin America correspondent Mac Margolis, who has amassed a stunning record of creating panic about the region's leftist leaders. (See "NewsweekÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢s Name-Calling Neoliberal," from Extra!'s January 2010 issue.)
Margolis argues that when Iranian protesters used Twitter to criticize their government, it was seen as a "tool of revolution and freedom." Not so in Venezuela, though, where Chavez "hasfigured out how to twist this tool into one of repression."
"Far from embracing the democratic spirit of the Web," Margolis writes, Chavez ("the Venezuelan strongman")want to use the technology to get people "to spy on each other." Margolis writes:
El Presidente has hired a staff of 200 to deal with tweeted "requests, denunciations, and other problems," which have resulted in actions against allegedly credit-stingy banks and currency speculators.
Banks and currency speculators?Well, that sounds chilling indeed.
Margolis adds that Chavez is"considering going a step further, and ruling that all Venezuelan websites must move from U.S.-based servers to domestic ones–which would, of course, make them far easier to control. Big Brother would be proud." That would seem to be a reference to a current debate in the Venezuelan parliament, so it's unclear how Chavez might "rule" that this happen. And it's worth reiterating that, as Chavez supporters have noted for years, the private media in the country are intensely critical of his politics, and were instrumental in supporting the coup that briefly removed him from power.
If Chavez wants to use media as a "tool of repression," he's not doing a very good job.