Spanish People's Party Hires Out Online Commenters to Toe the Party Line
BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, March 22 2013
Last month, a major political scandal in Spain came to a head when the media was prohibited from attending press conferences addressing payoffs and other financial corruption within the left-wing People's Party. Now new evidence has surfaced that regional People's Party of the Balaeric Islands - Spanish-owned Mediterranean territories which include Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza - has been recruiting netizens to comment on online articles that contradict the party line.
Global Voices aggregated recent Spanish-language coverage yesterday, offering a picture of the evolving story. While the first allegations against the Balaeric PP came in earlier February, the practice was confirmed last week when an email intended for opinadores - "opinion-givers" - was inadvertently sent to members of the press. In the message sent March 15, members of this group were given a series of recent news items to comment on, with directives for the kind of arguments to be made on articles that contradict PP policy. The email also includes encouragements to tweet as certain upcoming events unfolded, such as the presentation of new legislation on rental policy by the islands' president.
Unlike propaganda bloggers in a country like Vietnam, whose origins are more shadowy, though their work has been acknowledged by the government, these Spanish political trolls seem to come through an ostensibly legitimate channel. The People's Party-backed website Canviadors.org [in Spanish] invites Balaeric residents "male and female, young and old...of whatever political ideology or religion," to become "changers," by devoting only “five minutes” a day to online conversation about current issues. Yet once users register - 2,074 have - it seems that political neutrality goes by the wayside. In this aspect, Canviadores doesn't seem terribly dissimilar from an American site like MoveOn.org, which encourages viral information sharing and petitioning government officials with a decidedly liberal bent.
Yet actively recruiting citizens to flood online newsmedia with political ideology - and putting words in their mouths - treads a more questionable path. It remains unclear exactly how these netizens are compensated for their five minutes. For those who have followed the financial scandal over the past months, the prospect of payoffs and bribery doesn’t seem far-fetched.
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