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article imageSpain's far-right, the clear leader in social media

By Diego URDANETA (AFP)     Apr 26, 2019 in Internet

Just like US President Donald Trump and France's Marine Le Pen, Spain's far-right party Vox has made a point of dominating social media with its hardline rhetoric ahead of elections on Sunday.

Shunning traditional media, the newcomer party's strategy is to target potential voters on social networks and generate as much of a buzz as possible, even if it's bad.

And it's working. Opinion polls predict that Vox will enter parliament for the first time in the parliamentary elections, in fifth place.

According to social media analysis group Social Elephants, Vox's messages on Twitter and Facebook generated the most interactions -- referring to messages that are liked, shared or commented on -- out of the five main parties over the past month.

More specifically, a third of all the five's interactions came from Vox.

Ultra-nationalist messages that also bash illegal immigration and abortion, videos showing leader Santiago Abascal riding a horse or standing under the rain in a picturesque part of Spain: the party provokes as much enthusiasm as rage.

"They've awakened the beast," one admiring online user said this week, reacting to a video of Abascal predicting the end of the "liberal dictatorship" in Spain after the elections.

Spain was ruled by dictator Francisco Franco after its 1936-39 civil war until his death in 1975.

"They are so scary," said another concerned user.

- Talk, even if negative -

Relegated to the distant margins of politics until December, when it erupted on the scene in regional elections in southern Andalusia, Vox could get around 30 lawmakers out of 350, according to opinion polls.

But analysts believe it could do even better, saying there may be many "hidden" Vox supporters who lie when asked by pollsters who they will be voting for.

The messages include videos showing Vox leader Santiago Abascal riding a horse or standing under the...
The messages include videos showing Vox leader Santiago Abascal riding a horse or standing under the rain in a picturesque part of Spain
CESAR MANSO, AFP/File

Largely shunning traditional media, Vox has opted "for a strategy of direct communication through social networks, through rallies with lots of people," Abascal told Spanish radio this week.

He said his party had felt "pretty badly treated" by traditional media in the past, which "distorted many of our proposals."

Ruben Durante of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies said that "what matters to a party that doesn't have visibility in traditional media and doesn't have representation in institutions is that people talk about them, even if it's negative."

"Controversial arguments attract attention and in the end, they win, because those who criticise aren't those who would vote for them," adds the expert in social networks and democracy.

On Twitter, Vox generated 1.1 million interactions over the past month compared to 886,000 for far-left party Podemos, which has always been very active online, according to Social Elephants.

That's also more than double the interactions of the Socialist Party, centre-right Ciudadanos and the conservative Popular Party (PP).

To top it all, Vox generated all those interactions by sending just an average of 11 messages a day, compared to 27 for Podemos or 50 for Ciudadanos.

And it also has far less followers on Twitter than other parties: 240,000, compared to Podemos's 1.37 million, the PP's 705,000, the Socialists' 670,000 and Ciudadanos' 518,000.

- Mobilising the disgruntled -

Durante says that in general, social networks allow parties to target potential voters and get their messages to them directly.

"If you're Vox, you can identify people who don't vote or won't vote, with specific interests like hunting... and target these people," he says.

This low-cost approach is attractive for those parties that have limited resources, he adds.

"Vox does that well, (far-right leader) Marine Le Pen did it in France, the (anti-establishment) Five Star Movement in Italy... and Donald Trump did it in the United States," says Durante.

And Vox has since 2017 been in contact with Trump's former advisor Steve Bannon, as the latter recognised in a recent interview with the El Pais daily.

Messages posted on social networks or sent via WhatsApp, another very popular tool in Spain, also have a broader reach because they are shared with relatives or friends.

Silvia Martinez, an expert on social networks and campaigns at Catalonia's Open University, says this is key as what originates from those close to you instantly appears more credible.

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