In this article, published on May 30, 2017, journalist Fabiola Zerpa writes about the practice of mocking and exposing beneficiaries of cleptoregimes and dictatorships in and out of their country. Case in point: Venezuela. I′m consulted briefly on social media use for this so-called “escreche” practice.
Public shaming of Maduro regime confederates goes viral on web
Opposition warns about taking controversial tactic too far
Venezuelans’ fury is global. Roy Chaderton, a senior member of the country’s diplomatic service, discovered this when he was pelted with garbage on a street in Madrid.
A video flew around social-media sites. So did a clip of Eugenio Vasquez Orellana, president of the Bank of Venezuela under the late Hugo Chavez, fleeing a bakery in Miami to chants of “Get Out!” Expatriates shouted “assassin” at former Chavez minister Maripili Hernandez in Barcelona and chased the daughter of Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez down Bondi Beach in Sydney, the incidents captured on smartphones.
This is escrache, a Spanish word for what roughly translates to public shaming, in this case of people connected to the government of President Nicolas Maduro or his predecessor and mentor, Chavez.
Venezuelans watching from afar as their homeland is wrenched by daily demonstrations, which have claimed at least 54 lives, are using the tactic to rail against the country’s misery of widespread hunger and soaring crime after 18 years of socialist rule. The Chavistas have driven the country into an economic collapse unprecedented in its modern history, and many in and connected to the Maduro regime have been accused by the U.S. of criminal activities including drug-running and money laundering.
The escrache activists have a rapt audience on Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp feeds around the world, including Nillson Castillo, a 26-year-old lawyer who left Caracas in September for Santiago, Chile. “I feel good when I see people pointing out those who have robbed Venezuela,” he said. If he has moments of doubt about it or guilt over watching someone being shamed, he said he reminds himself of the mess the country is in.
Back home, social media has been ablaze with #escrache posts and images. There was the ambassador to Switzerland being insulted in a supermarket, and a leader of Chavez’s Fifth Republic Movement being heckled at a human-rights conference in Lebanon. A Google map purporting to show where relatives of Maduro-administration members live around the world circulated at warp speed in chat rooms.
Going Too Far?
That’s one of the scale-tippers where escrache becomes controversial — with the targeting of people unconnected to the Chavistas except by blood or friendship. Freddy Guevara, an opposition lawmaker, warned against taking things too far.
“This will generate controversy, but I should say this with clarity: It’s not correct or moral to harass the children of officials,” he said on Twitter. He made the comment after video of the daughter of the Caracas mayor, a Maduro supporter, was posted; one woman chasing her shouted, “It must be nice to live here while they’re killing students. Answer me! There are people dying because of your father!”
There’s a fair amount of criticism of escrache in general. Some detractors complain it doesn’t accomplish much beyond giving a little satisfaction to “people who have all this inner rage,” in the words of Alex Yllarramendy, a Venezuelan sound engineer living in Barcelona and a regular critic of the Maduro regime on Twitter. He said expats should put their energy toward documenting how grandly some Chavistas are living overseas and sharing that with Maduro supporters. “That message would be more effective.”
Venezuelan officials and business executives with close ties to the government are believed to have pulled billions of dollars out of the country that were generated during an oil boom a decade ago. That wealth is particularly evident in the mansions they own in cities like Miami and Panama City.
It’s unclear whether any escrache practitioners have landed in hot water. Venezuela Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez recently claimed that two “fascist” expats were detained by Australian authorities after they tried to throw paint on a vice-minister who was in the country for a conference. The pair denied her claim, posting a video they said showed they’d simply tried to ask the man a question during an anti-Maduro demonstration. (More routine protest methods are raising some hackles abroad, though: In Panama, President Juan Carlos Valera threatened to deport Venezuelans after a group tried to crash a pro-Maduro rally at the University of Panama.)
The tag #escrache began to appear on Twitter late last year. It’s been trending steadily, according to an analysis of a curated list of around 30,000 handles tracked by Bloomberg. It reached an all-time high on May 15, the day the opposition held sit-ins around the country.
It’s not gone unnoticed by Maduro, who in a speech on May 19 called the strategy “part of a fascist escalation” of persecution and declared, “We’re the new Jews of the 21st Century.”
Trying to humiliate public figures isn’t a new maneuver in opposition politics. It’s been popular in Argentina, where videos circulate of people insulting ministers who served under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has been indicted on corruption charges. A former aide was heckled on the way into a bank in Santa Cruz province and a former commerce secretary was harassed while walking toward the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires recently. In 2013, then-Finance Minister Axel Kicillof was insulted during a ferry ride with his family by passengers who yelled “thief” and “shameless.” The power of the Internet gave the episode wide distribution.
For Venezuelans far from home, the web’s social networks are “a dream come true,” said Fernando Nunez-Noda, a social-media consultant in Miami and former professor at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. “They’re crowdsourcing locations, identifications, logistics. Those who want to hide have it harder than ever.”
Donald Trump got up the morning after the first Presidential Debate telling everyone he won it. What base did he have for such a presumption? Well, he showed a bunch of polls by the likes of Time, CNBC and Forture showing such a thing. Take a look:
If you pay close attention, you might notice two relevant features: one, except for the previously mentioned sources the rest are either too rightist or very unknown ones. Two, they are online polls: widgets embedded in a webpage that allows an anonymous user to cast a vote. The results are shown as soon as the user clicks on a Vote or Ok button.
Other sign to identify them: they come with little social media Like and Share buttons so people can reproduce them like rabbits.
First things first. Online poll are not real polls! They just give a glimpse of the moment but their reliability is very low, since they are not sampled and online voting does not prevent multiple votes by the same person and even multiple votes by robot apps that cast many nonhuman clicks, their validity is practically zero.
The difference between unscientific and scientific polls
The polls that Trump is relying on let anyone vote with absolutely zero checks. If you’re online at the time and find the poll, you can vote. You don’t have to live in America or be a US citizen.
And you can vote multiple times — by reopening a browser tab, going behind an internet proxy, or logging on to a different account.
This can lead to some very skewed results. For example, if an active online community — liker /The_Donald, the Reddit community that supports Trump — gets a bunch of people to vote on a poll (as they did), this can lead to Trump supporters overwhelming the results with a higher percent of Trump supporters than would otherwise be present in a typical sample of American voters. With such a skewed sample, it’s impossible to take the results seriously — it turns into a contest over which online community is most enthusiastic about winning unscientific polls, not how US voters feel about who won the debate.
Those are the polls trumpists are showing as “proof” of a “victory” only they seem to acknowledge. Gomez, them, goes to the scientific realities of a reliable sampled opinion research:
The polls Clinton is relying on, on the other hand, use statistical controls to make sure the sample isn’t so skewed. They try to contact people that match the voting population — so they’ll try to ensure that a certain percent of respondents in the survey are white, black, Latino, Democrat, Republican, and so on. And if they can’t reach the right amount of people, they’ll sometimes adopt statistical weights to bring up or down a specific group — so if a survey has too many men, they might try to weigh the women’s responses higher.
The CNN/ORC poll on Monday night was a scientific one. CNN acknowledged its sample of Democrats was a bit too high — since this was a poll taken quickly after the debate, the network and its pollster just didn’t have time to do better. Still, the win was overwhelmingly for Clinton — with 62 percent of voters who watched the debate saying that she won versus 27 percent saying the same for Trump.
CNN’s poll wasn’t the only scientific one to reach this conclusion. Public Policy Polling’s post-debate poll found that 51 percent of debate watchers said Clinton won, versus 40 percent who said the same of Trump. So far, CNN and PPP’s polls are the only two scientific polls we have.
FiveThirtyEight generally takes an inclusive attitude towards polls. Our forecast models include polls from pollsters who use traditional methods, i.e., live interviewers. And we include surveys conducted with less tested techniques, such as interactive voice response (or “robopolls”) and online panels. We don’t treat all polls equally — our models account for the methodological quality and past accuracy of each pollster — but we’ll take all the data we can get.
This split, however, between live-interview polls and everything else, is something we keep our eye on. When we launched our general election forecasts in late June, there wasn’t a big difference in the results we were getting from polls using traditional methodologies and polls using newer techniques. Now, it’s pretty clear that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump is wider in live-telephone surveys than it is in nonlive surveys.
In short, online polls are not real, valid polls. They just show a shot of enthusiasm during a TV live event, such as a debate. But they cannot be taken seriously as indicators of actual social preferences because they:
Are not based on scientifically calculated samples.
Can be voted several times by the same person.
Can even be voted from outside the US.
(Most of the times) Robot servers can vote massively for an option.
Are susceptible to be altered by the site’s owner.
(If the site is popular among certain groups) Obviously gets more votes from that group.
So, let′s put favoritism or fanaticism aside and root for precision instead.
Broadcasting live TV requires microwaves, trucks, heavy cables, metal towers and even satellites in the exosphere. But the other day I transmitted live the July 4th fireworks from my phone without major trauma (except the pulse because I improvised and did not bring tripod). You still need towers and satellites, but it is the “last mile” or “last kilometer” which changes for the user. Yours is the connected phone and the rest, frankly, lays down on Facebook because it’s their Live service.
Facebook Live is pretty close to how an application of this type should work: a couple of clicks and you’re on. The rest depends on the broadcaster.
FaceTime, Google Hangout and other live systems transmission has been around but as usual, the “fever” or peaks in the use of a product category usually happen when a product “breaks the cellophane” in the worldwide attention.
As easily as I had to broadcast a harmless fireworks, Diamond Reynolds (girlfriend of Phillando Castile’s, an African American killed by a policeman in Minnesota on Jul/06/2016), reported a real gunfire. The difference of situation could not be bigger, but the tool of transmission was the same. Miami’s Nuevo Herald said about Castile: “He died after receiving four shots from the hands of a police officer, and his last moments of life were transmitted by his girlfriend in a Facebook Live video.”
Then the video was broadcasted live by Reynolds and like all Facebook Live streams, remained on her wall. The video contains strong images and discretion is advised.
Just a week later there was another high-profile case. Three men in Virginia were massacred while reporting live on Facebook. Their video had nothing to do with the killing, which took them by surprise and was attributed to gang warfare. The three men were killed at minute 0:44 of the video below.
In Nice, France, the terrorist attack of July 14th was so quick and unexpected that there was no time for anyone to capture it live (and maybe it was better that way, given how awful it was). But there was a remarkable use of live video the next day, during the attempted coup in Turkey.
During the confusing night following the putsch, the rebel army took the main institutions, including television stations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in hiding and needed to deliver a message to the country. The Daily Mail says that Erdogan:
Isolated inside the holiday resort, Erdogan made an inspired decision, which in all likelihood saved his presidency and showed the major flaw in the rebels’ plans.
With the state media service occupied, Erdogan called a private TV station [CNN Turkey] on his iPhone. He needed to show the 80-million population he was still a freeman and needed to play his major gamble.
A journalist held in his hand a phone that receives the transmission and a camera launched the feed. Erdogan used Apple Face Time.
What implications -beyond sharing with friends or followers- poses the ability to broadcast live from a mobile device? How important for journalism and user-generated content?
As a citizen it gives you more power, more autonomy for reporting news events. A video can provide a powerful forensic evidence, incontrovertible proof in court (versus the contrast between witness testimonies). That is a live transmission draws more attention than a mere post-event publication, not only for friends and followers, but for journalists and infocitizens worldwide.
Well, more power to inform direct and instantaneously, without inter mediation. Journalists win because they have thousands of “correspondents” ad honorem that can pick up an exclusive just because they are there. While certainly most “streams” will be birthdays or sports competitions, more than once who transmits will give a breaking news.
There are, as always, negative consequences such as invasion of privacy. From hidden shots in a nudist beach to a wedding that wanted to perform in the strictest privacy, certainly a video is intrusive in the lives of those who want to preserve their privacy. Get ready for paparazzis in real time.
Another risk is the simulation of facts. Someone may stage an action and pass it off as a spontaneous event for a joke or a political purpose with controversial or social anxiety effects.
Also the transmission timelinesscan help misrepresenting information. For example, A hits B; B responds but someone transmit since the point where B hitted A. In the light of superficial judgment, B is the provocateur.
This is just beginning. Undoubtedly the power game regarding media has changed forever.
Published in Neorika, 17/Juy/2016.
On December 14, 2014, I watched the final “Newsroom” episode, the HBO series starring Jeff Daniels and written by Aaron Sorkin ( “The West Wing”) with an interesting casting: Sam Waterston, Jane Fonda and a number of actors whom I did not know, except Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”). The “newsroom” is ACN’s, an important (and fictional) News Network in New York. Third or fourth in the country. The closest would be MSNBC sans the liberal excesses. (more…)
The Global Center for Journalism and Democracy partnered for the first time with the Colegio de Periodistas de Costa Rica to help journalists transition to digital journalism. More than 150 journalists from Costa Rica attended the event on May 12-13, 2016. GCJD brought four experts to lead the sessions. Manuel Canales from National Geographic, Erica Berenstein from the New York Times, Fernando Nunez-Noda with 3kats Corp., and Willie Lora, the former Washington DC bureau chief for CNN Espanol and head of Lora Media.
The first workshop was presented by Fernando Nunez- Noda. He talked about harnessing and organizing data and warned about the abundance of false information that some governments and businesses provide. During his session Nunez-Noda was able to help reporters learn how to analyze data to tell powerful stories.
Manuel Canales’ presentation focused on telling stories through images. Through interactive exercises, reporters were able to explore data visualization, and use it to tell a story.
Erica Berenstein talked about the importance of producing a multimedia story. She stressed that often, all that is needed is a smart phone and told participants to stay away from expensive equipment. During Berenstein’s session reporters were able to shoot and produce a short multimedia story as part of an exercise.
Finally, Willie Lora’s presentation explored how journalists could leverage social media. Lora explained how reporters could disseminate information on various social media venues, connect to sources, and gather real time information. He also introduced participants to a variety of tools they could use to verify information.
Many of the journalists who participated in the sessions had great things to say about their experience. One participant wrote in an evaluation, “it is more necessary than ever to know and understand how journalism is changing and how journalists need to keep their audiences up to date.”
Marlon Mora, President of the Colegio of Periodistas of Costa Rica, said he is thankful for the partnership with GCJD and believes the workshop helped equip his organization’s members with new knowledge, and skills
Three SHSU students traveled with the center to Costa Rica. Jacqueline Jaramillo, who is also a student worker at GCJD, Grace Ngo, GCJD intern, and Jacqueline Garcia who just graduated this month. They put together a video about the training, wrote up official reports, helped with logistics and got to network with professionals. “The overall trip was a phenomenal experience. Stepping out of my comfort zone paid off,” said Jacqueline Jaramillo.
It was the first time GCJD trained in central America, although SHSU has other strong relationships in the region.
The Global Center for Journalism and Democracy trains journalists and members of civil society around the world in an effort to strengthen communities.
Global Center for Journalism and Democracy
Dan Rather Communications Building, Room 201, Huntsville, TX 77340
Phone: (936) 294-4399