Publish in Perspectives - Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Chevron Attacks: US actress Mia Farrow acknowledged that she was paid a speaker's fee, but far less than the $180,391 claimed by MCSquared. (Photo: Government of Ecuador)
The Ecuador government is actively using social media in its dispute with Chevron and domestic critics.
Nobody advertises more on social micro-blogging service Twitter in Ecuador than the administration, we have been told by a well-informed source. With newspapers' Web pages and internet media platforms obliged by law to force commenters to disclose personal information of commenters, including addresses, under the media law whose constitutionality the Constitutional Court upheld this week, social networking sites have concentrated public debate in recent months. Mysterious accounts have emerged to blast opponents or individuals, including companies like Chevron. Members of the public have long suspected that these might be receiving public money.
Proof of this emerged in a video revealed earlier this month, showing that an Internet marketing
company called Ximah Digital had managed at least a Facebook site called "El Patriota." Featuring the likeness of early 20th-century liberal president Eloy Alfaro, the eponymous Twitter distributed "troll" attacks on critics of the Correa administration in viciously foul, below-the- belt language. Following the release of the video on YouTube, Ximah's owner, Juan Carlos Váscones, acknowledged that his company had launched a "fan page" for El Patriota to capture interest even in the face of the Twitter accounts "unscrupulous management." According to media reports, Ximah's client list, which now only mentions the government, as well as a series of private customers,has included many government offices, including the presidency and vice presidency, police and interior ministry, as well as a government-sponsored tourism campaign. This raised suspicion that the El Patriota account receives government funding as a so-called "troll center." Váscones has refused to answer further media questions, attacking newspaper El Universo because "there's absolutely no reason for these journalistic
After the outcry on social networks, marketing company IMS, the company that represents Twitter in Latin America, announced that it would open an office in Ecuador; previously, it worked through Ximah.
Separately, late filings from controversial public relations firm MCSquared (based in Brooklyn and Quito) with the US government also triggered social-network ire. The documents showed that $500,000 of $1.9 million went to pay for visits of celebrities to an Amazon oil well with pollution the government blames on Chevron, but where documents point to Petroecuador's responsibility. US actress Mia Farrow acknowledged that she was paid a speaker's fee, but far less than the $180,391 claimed by MCSquared. This and the lack of accounting for another $4.5 million has raised further questions –and criticism –about the use of taxpayers' money
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