Latin America: from Continent to hashtag

By Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt is an IT security professional currently based in London, UK. He has worked in over a dozen countries during his career, including long stints in Taiwan and Germany.
July 1, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

This year, the  World Cup games in Brazil have turned into a blessing in disguise for social media outlets. With Twitter reporting 12.2 million tweets during the opening match between Brazil and Croatia and Facebook indicating 459 million interactions between 141 million users during the first week of the World Cup, the event stands to be the largest ever for social media, surpassing even the London Olympics.

However, not everything is celebrations and champagne for Brazil. Indeed, many activists taken to social media to protest Brazil’s decision to host the Cup and have been steadily using the high profile event to shed light on the country’s endemic problems of poverty and inequality. In spite of the increased attendance of Brazil’s growing middle class at the games, the idea that excessive spending on lavish ‘single use’ football stadiums is a complete waste of public funds is gaining ground of Facebook and Twitter.   


Planting the #seedsofunrest

This is not the first time the Southern Hemisphere’s populations have used the tools of social media to speak out against their governments. For instance, 2011 was marked by widespread social movements, enhanced and made viral by the population’s expanding access to social media, with many citizens sharing and tweeting their own analyses and reports of the situation on the ground.

In Columbia, professors and students took to the streets to protest against a proposed bill to reform the higher education system, which would have paved the pay for private and international investment into their public university system. Protests continued six months later with university students striking and occupying Bolivar Square. Only after President Juan Manuel Santos posted on Twitter that he had demanded Congress to table the bill, did the students begin to gradually return to class.

A similar scenario took place in Chile, when students arranged a variety of protests complaining about their educational system. While the international media focused predominately on violent police/protestor clashes, students blogged and tweeted in order to tell the real story behind the occupations and sit-ins they held in schools.

Meanwhile in Mexico, citizens led by Javier Sicilia, the creator of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, took part in a four day peace march to protest President Felipe Calderon’s violent war on drugs to fight cartels, a policy which has left thousands of people dead. The demonstrator’s efforts were coupled with social media tools and blogging platforms. One in particular was created to spread the word about the violence that was taking place in the streets, called Blog Carnival on “Citizenry, Violence and Blogs”. Soon afterwards, reports of brutal killings of activists began to surface all over social media with the aim of breaking the silence created by the international media about the true state of affairs in Mexico’s drug war.


The Twitter frenzy

Today, reports show that the Latin American region is set to become the fastest growing region in the world with regards to the Internet-using population, surpassing even Asia Pacific and its sizeable base of Twitter users. Currently, approximately 95% of the region’s Internet users are also social media account holders, in comparison to the US’ measly figure of just 67%. By 2018, the entire regions’ Twitter users are set to increase to 43.3 million, a rise of 15.3 million.

Brazil, Mexico and Argentina are by far the leaders of the Latin American Twitter-craze with 2014 figures for the 3 countries standing at 12.7, 7.7 and 3.7 million users respectively.


Acknowledgement of change

Even institutional players that are usually the slowest to jump on the social media bandwagon have already hopped on to promote their policies.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFE), a special body created within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report on the Freedom of Expression and the Internet. The report  “lays out the general principles that must serve as a guide for the protection of the right to freedom of through and expression in the digital environment”, and has received the backing of a large number of Latin American states and NGOs. Acknowledging the need to protect human rights activists that have taken to the digital sphere to increase the visibility of their actions, the report is meant to serve as a guide of best practices for states.

In Panama, the National Police Force led by chief Julio Molto has implemented a new community outreach program for Panama’s troubled and violent neighborhoods, which has gained significant traction on social networking sites. The “Unidad Preventiva Communitaria” Facebook page shows efforts by the Panamanian police to organize various sporting events, educational conferences, and community clean up campaigns, in a two tiered system aimed to protect citizens while offering young people opportunities to prosper rather than turn to criminal activities. The Panamanian National Police Twitter page has 151,000 followers, confirming the interest of the population in keeping track of the changes it brings to Panama’s communities.

In a nutshell, Latin America has officially become the hub of social media outlets as the number of users tweeting and sharing population continues to grow. With the 2016 Olympic games taking place in Brazil, this trend is likely to continue, as is the use of social media for everything from social movements to government influence to the promotion of business interests.

To paraphrase Gil-Scott Heron, the revolution will not be televised, the revolution will be tweeted.


Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt
Fred Arndt is an IT security professional currently based in London, UK. He has worked in over a dozen countries during his career, including long stints in Taiwan and Germany.