Social media deflects and trivializes the country’s problems, experts say, but politicians must adjust

Feb 6, 2024 | 0 comments

By Liam Higgins

“Social media makes jokes when Ecuador faces the biggest crises in its history,” says former presidential Communication Secretary Leonardo ‘Pipo’ Laso. “We desperately need serious national dialog to find solutions but what we see are silly memes and comic videos that dominate people’s interest.”

Former president Rafael Correa

Laso is one of several media experts and former officials complaining about the growing impact of social media and how it deflects attention from Ecuador’s security and financial crises. “It is sad that posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the other platforms are getting more attention than articles discussing the real issues of the day.”

As an example, Laso cites last week’s “popular obsession” with insults traded between President Daniel Noboa and former president Rafael Correa about their English-language speaking skills. “Video snips were taken from interviews about the tax debate in the Assembly and the state of emergency and posted on social media about how they sound in English,” Laso says. “The jokes attracted more viewers and readers than the financial and narcro crime issues, which leads me to wonder if people have lost interest in what is really important in the country.”

Ricardo Pons, a communication professor and consultant, also worries about the “trivialization” of big issues but says the influence of social media will only get stronger. “Public officials must adjust to the new reality,” he says. “The internet and social media have fundamentally changed how political discourse and debate are conducted,” he says. “Many politicians in the older generations do not understand this, which puts them at a big disadvantage. A good example of this is the last election, where an almost-unknown young candidate [Daniel Noboa] came out of nowhere to win.”

Pons adds: “With all of its defects, we must acknowledge that what we are witnessing is democracy in action in the age of the internet. We are moving from a vertical communication paradigm where the politicians, newspapers and television stations controlled the narrative, to a horizontal paradigm where everyone can participate. Yes, much of it is absurd and a waste of time, and that is unfortunate, but the medium cannot be ignored.”

Laso says that traditional institutions, such as polling services, are joining the action by taking “snap” polls of social media topics. “These quick polls are popular in the U.S. and Europe and focus mostly on personalities and emotional issues,” he said. “Two pollsters went on Facebook, Twitter and Tiktok last weekend and asked who won the Correa-Noboa English-speaking debate and, of course, Noboa won overwhelmingly. So, my question is, why didn’t they conduct a poll about what Noboa and Correa said about the real problems we face.”

Says Pons: “Of course Noboa won. He’s young and understands how to play the media, which is why he avoids news conferences and prefers appearing on television interviews where the lighting is good and the production is sophisticated. On the other hand,” Pons continues, “You see Correa in poor lighting, sitting at a computer in his attic in Belgium, looking tired and haggard, and you get the memes ‘Angry old man in Brussels’ and ‘Vulgar Guayaquileño’, which get hundreds of thousands of views.”

He adds: “Correa and all the older political figures must learn what Marshall McLuhan predicted decades ago — the medium is the message.”

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