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Quién Manda: A Pinterest For Politician and Lobbyist Relations?

BY Rebecca Chao | Tuesday, October 8 2013

Some day, the term ‘El Fotomandón’ may give Spanish politicians the jitters.

El Fotomandón is, in some sense, like a paparazzi-meets-Pinterest for politician and lobbyist relations, displaying photos of them interacting together, in an effort to uncover illicit relations between them. These so-called ‘protagonistas’ are tagged with their full name and titles. It belongs to the site, Quién Manda (‘Who’s Your Boss?’), launched today by Civio, a civil interest group that works on transparency issues in Spain. Its mantra is to bid ‘bye, bye to opacity’ and ‘hello to democracy.’

This picture featured on El Fotomandón shows a group of politicians and bankers looking cozy next to one another at a fashion event in Barcelona along with descriptions of each figure.

Lobbying is a particularly sensitive issue in Spain because it lacks legal bounds.

“The main issue about lobbying is that it's completely unregulated, and opacity about public dealings is widespread in Spain,” wrote David Cabo and Eva Belmonte in a joint e-mail to TechPresident. Cabo is the director and developer of Civio and Belmonte is the lead journalist for Quién Manda.

Another reason for the website is that Spain is the only large European country (population over 1 million) not to have an access to information law, which activists have been fighting for since 2006. While a draft law has been proposed and is currently in the Senate, “it is a weak law,” says Cabo and Belmonte. “[The law] specifically excludes public officials' agendas, visitor logs and internal memos/reports.” The purpose of Quién Manda is therefore to “put this topic in the public agendas, and get political parties and ministries to release their detailed agendas and visitor logs,” says Cabo and Belmonte.

Civio also launched an access to information site in the spring of last year, which TechPresident’s Antonella Napolitano covered. or ‘Your Right to Know’ directed citizens to the various government bodies to get their information requests answered.

The Quién Manda site is unique in its use of photos even though the concept of gathering information on relationships between businessmen and politicians is not new. Cabo explains that as far as he knows, one of the first sites was They Rule, which allows users to search and piece together – through a ‘map of connections’ – information on the relationships between America’s elites. The website explains:

They Rule aims to provide a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class. It takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, which share many of the same directors. Some individuals sit on 5, 6 or 7 of the top 1000 companies.

Other similar sites include Who Runs Hong Kong (though the site seems to no longer exist), Little Sis and Poderopedia.

“But we haven't seen the photo part of it anywhere else, or not in a structured way,” wrote Cabo. “You obviously see photos as part of newspapers or blogs, but they are not one of the core elements of a site.” There have also been “iconic photos” of Spanish politicians, social and business elites floating around that revealed a connection too close for comfort, says Cabo and Belmonte. “We wanted to gather all these pictures in one single site, add some context to them and explain why they were so revealing.”

The photos, says Cabo and Belmonte, provide a strong visual draw akin to Pinterest and Facebook Photos. “[It] will make it more appealing to people that would normally find these topics boring or confusing,” they said.

While Cabo and Belmonte say that they do not have access to the photo archives at large news agencies – it’s expensive to obtain them – they obtain photos by combing through the archives of official public bodies and politicians’ public social media pages, like Flickr. Quién Manda also has permission to reuse photos from the newspapers El País, El Mundo and Canarias 7.

In a few weeks, the site will allow the public to upload and tag their own photos, says Cabo and Belmonte. “It is one of our goals to motivate people to send us their own pictures of, for example, VIP seats in football stadiums, where you can traditionally see politics and business sitting together.”

The crowdsourced and visual aspect of Quién Manda is in some ways similar to the "human flesh search" (人肉搜索) phenomenon in China (a country that ironically, does have an access to information law).

As TechPresident previously wrote, this method, in which netizens comb the web for compromising or incriminating photos of politicians, has had the power to bring down politicians by revealing their expensive cars, watches or indecent habits.

However, in China, with no clear judicial process on how to deal with corrupt politicians – the lower levels officials are quickly sacked, sentenced in closed proceedings and never heard of again – you wonder how easy it would be for someone with a vindictive agenda to bring a politician down over rumor rather than fact.

Cabo and Belmonte are aware of these issues. “We’ve sourced and tagged the pictures ourselves, and we have experienced journalists in our team, so we can answer for the quality and truth of the photos,” they said. “Also, we deliberately stay way from populism and rumours, and we stick to public records.”

When the site opens to public input in a few weeks, Cabo and Belmonte noted that they would still have to “keep a strict editorial overview of the content and implement tight moderation, in order to avoid fakes, private pictures or aggressive comments.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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