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The Social Media Commander: Cristina Kirchner (And Smarter Than You Think)

By | [email protected] | July 18, 2013 6:22pm


Make no mistake: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is cutting edge. For all her politics of the past—faction courting, war chest stuffing, playing candidate king-maker (or queen-maker?) – it’s easy to forget her awareness of the present. As self-absorbed and Argentina-centric as she seems, she’s not afraid to borrow the best ideas of the moment. No doubt that she noticed the unorthodox success of Barack Obama’s infamous 2008 campaign and took its best lesson—you can make the information middlemen obsolete. The effect of this on US politics was noteworthy. On day-to-day Argentine politics, it’s profound.

Since social media’s mass-adoption in 2008, Obama showed off the power of direct, unfiltered communication of campaign positions using this new, yet still raw platform in Twitter. This did not go unnoticed by Kirchner, who was no doubt taking methodical notes on how the campaign used social media. Even so, it’s clear Kirchner isn’t replicating Obama’s strategy. Obama likes to encourage citizen activism and implicitly endorses the system, while Kirchner prefers to ridicule the inadequacies of her own. Despite our preference to the civility and more optimistic tone of Obama’s tweet, they aren’t too dissimilar; both are looking to shore up support from the base. Obama is making the case to someone who already supports him, as is Kirchner. Essentially, both are tweeting to achieve the same objective, the difference is how much more radical Kirchner’s goals are.

The need for a paradigm shift in the functioning of Argentine media has been a Kirchner viewpoint for sometime. Let’s examine some quotes (instead of translating in English I’ll just paraphrase how I read it. Also, this is Nestor, but they could very well have been Cristina’s words too):

También debe quedar en claro que es importante informar bien.
Nosotros, en el planteo de la negociación con los tenedores de títulos
de la deuda externa privada argentina, no hemos variado en nada
la propuesta de Dubai.

Todo lo que hoy se dice por allí no es cierto.
Nuestra postura es la misma, es absolutamente clara, de buena fe,
racional como se le ha explicado a importantes interlocutores que
hemos tenido en las últimas horas. (…)Esto tiene que quedar muy
en claro para evitar cualquier tipo de especulación y además, con
absoluto respeto hacia todos los medios, no vivo escondido, cualquier duda
que tengan, que nos pregunten o me pregunten para evitar precisamente
generar este tipo de situaciones

(Kirchner, en el acto de presentación de
proyectos industriales del complejo industrial nacional de las telecomunicaciones, 20/02/2004).

In their opinion, the media generate problems by speculating, attacking and therefore rocking the institutional fabric, then have the galls to blame the government for not properly responding. In short: the media start fires and savagely attack the administration for not putting them out fast enough. And what is their motivation for this?

Hemos puesto al gobierno del lado de la gente, del lado de nuestro
pueblo. A nuestro modo, con nuestro estilo, hemos sacado al gobierno
de los despachos a la calle, a los barrios, a los pueblos y a las ciudades
donde nuestra gente vive, trabaja, sufre y lucha. Para acallar el rumor
de los intereses mezquinos, que sólo piensan en su propia ganancia, para
no detenerse a contestar a aquellos que diariamente destilan sus odios, sus
envidias y hasta sus fracasos, como también otros que defienden sus
inconfesables fines, tenemos que aprender a escuchar. Escuchar al
pueblo, ésa es una principal virtud de la democracia. Yo seguiré escuchando a
los ciudadanos, dialogando con ellos, sin intermediarios ni exégetas. Me entero
de sus necesidades por boca de ellos mismos. Así voy
conociendo sus preocupaciones. Trato de resolver, y si me equivoco,
corrijo. (Kirchner, ante la Asamblea Legislativa, 1/03/2004)

It’s not even that they’re only thinking about their own profits, but to the Kirchners, the most vile part of their behavior is that they’ll do so to the bitter end, even in the face of the failure of their own ideas. They ignore the people while believing they know best, yet this culture is against the fundamental principles of democracy, where those who wronged the people lose the privilege of thought leadership. *nods head*

So, on to the mechanics. At first glance, it seems like Kirchner doesn’t ‘get’ tweeting. She tells stories and explores narratives over many quick succession tweets—which for a platform defined by its hard 140-character communication rules—makes her seem ridiculous. Remember though, we (tech savvy Bubble readers) are not her target. If you don’t like her decisions and demeanor as president, good twitter etiquette isn’t going to turn you around. But in the context of Argentine politics, being directly accessible to her base is of tantamount importance. Furthermore, it’s not only about presence but the projection of her brand: a leader who has big ideas and tackles the endemic problems of Argentina, and relates it all back to the average person.

Her tweets seem like random trains of thought, but what I see is some good old fashioned rally speaking 101. Let’s take flag day:

She sets up the narrative with a patriot display and a nice visual (aided by the medium) of her waving a flag. Her tweets are clearly divided into generalized ‘paying homage’ style feel-gooders and the more controversial ones:

Any of these can be quoted and the message is clear. Despite the lead-in, she’s sliced up each tweet into snack-sized bites, each with its own distinct evocations and issue grapplings:

Like any good speech-maker, she seamlessly switches from re-tellings of history into political rhetoric, tapping into strong nationalistic sentiment and converting it into a subconscious approval of her own policies. As any good salesman will tell you, the trick is to get them saying ‘yes’.

We’re at risk right now, but to counter this risk, democracy enables you to vote out those who don’t perform. This is a fundamental right you should have, since we’re not a dictatorship. Except, of course, you can’t do this for other branches of power‘.

So with a flick of her fingers (and some help from equivocation and non sequiturs), she has her audience exactly where she wants them: associating the love of country with the need for her radical reforms.

The argument may be paper thin and not a sound platform for a serious debate, but nonetheless these tweets would be an empowering read for the disenfranchised. To dismiss this as cheap trickery is denying the obvious: that it’s impossible to debate rights and power without boiling it down to some degree for the masses. Earning support for major institutional changes requires an astounding amount of trust. And let’s face it, there’s nothing back door about this, nor difficult to read fine print—she’s taking the concept of public trust by the majority and making her case. She wants the people to elect judges because she knows she can tell her constituency which of the candidates they should elect, an amazing power to wield that scares many observers. And she can do so without the middleman, direct to the consumer, via social media. To some, this shows a huge systemic imbalance. But she’s crafted this feedback loop in a wholly democratic way—by appealing to those who have been ignored by this country for too long.

Another trick is how she implants little nuggets for the media to reproduce. Here she is, tweeting about visiting Chavez’s grave:

Infobae takes her strangest tweet as the lede:

At a casual glance, this tweet seems to undermine her desired effect. Visiting a tomb of a dead leader is formal event and talking about ‘womanly chat in the bathroom’ in the middle of this suggests a lack of seriousness about the occasion. Not to mention a weird personality. However the tweet works on two important levels: 1) Like news sites who themselves link-bait, she encourages clicks/impressions and commands the attention of even those who do not care. 2) The tweet isn’t as strange when viewed in the context of the story (nicely formatted by Infobae for it’s viewers). She’s a human being before a leader- like all of us, overwhelmed at times but able to find a moment of solace within the simpler things, whether it be family, pets or TV shows. Bonus points for including a baby photo.

The formula gets results. It breaks apart the traditional structure of reporting —the ‘quote then contextualize’—by doing the contextualizing herself. She attaches her on photos, references who she chooses, and happily dictates the terms of engagement. The primary source content is indisputable and always available. Another, her on the AMIA:

Here she explains why the agreement is important to her, the people behind the issue and masterfully crafts a story line by using the admittedly awkward ‘asking herself questions and answering them out-loud‘ role play- all the while condensing the issue as she sees it, in sharp contrast to what the mainstream media does. Instead of a boring, drawn-out, ugly and complicated discussion, it’s now a simple narrative about justice for all Argentines that anyone could succinctly point out during a dinner table conversation. All these tweets can be quoted independently (except the name tweet), because they’re clear, concise and give no room for confusion over her position in the matter. Look at the La Nacion coverage over her tweets:

You can almost hear the reporter’s groan in this snippet:

“Fue entonces cuando escribió en un mensaje en tercera persona: ‘CFK directa, como siempre. Hablé de la necesidad de avanzar en el esclarecimiento del atentado (causa judicial estancada)’.”

“It was then when she wrote a message in third person” (Translation: Don’t forget she’s a weirdo).

Turn on the TV and you’ll see this in full effect. News broadcasts will display her tweets directly, just like if Obama ‘released a statement’- it gets reported on, analysed and digested. But statements via memos run the risk of being quoted out-of-context. On twitter, this doesn’t happen: anyone can view exactly what the media views, so deliberate manipulation can be exposed by the readers in one-click. And if the media are merely reading her tweets out-loud, what do we need them for, exactly? (I imagined Kirchner ringing her fingers while doing her best ‘goooooooooood!‘ every time she checks her twitter analytics.)

Her facebook is no different: a beautifully stylized barrage of photography, speech videos and handcrafted statements. If you need your fix of Cristina, boy does this itch that spot. There’s not so much to say other than it’s political curation at it’s finest and if I were Macri, I would be stealing her photography team away from her.

And let’s not forget just how important this strategy is, not only for winning elections but for how central it is to Kirchnerism’s beliefs for how to create a better Argentina:

Yo creo en el pueblo, algunos dicen “quiere un diálogo directo con
la gente”, sí, no me gusta que intermedien con la gente, que me entronen.
A mí me gusta estar en el medio de la gente porque sé que es la gente
que me va a cuidar, a respaldar para hacer un país distinto (Kirchner, en la ciudad de San Isidro, 19/7/2006)

This says everything about the current Kirchner PR strategy: only through direct dialogue with the people can we begin to understand the unique problems they face, and only then is it possible to create a solution that is uniquely Argentine. And you know what, I think I agree. This is a strong intellectual idea held by Kirchnerism and that through the use twitter and other social media, has now been converted in a pragmatic solution. You may or may not disagree with the implications, but please, credit where credit is due: for a leader of Argentina to go from a fundamental critique (self-interested media) to a practical solution (direct engagement via social media), all executed using the full bag of political tricks like branding, image and clout, bound together with trust—now that is a paradigm shift.

It’s possible that one day we look back and forget the kookiness that right now dominates our opinion of her. It’s possible that in this ‘decada ganada‘, the history books may say that Kirchner is one of the savviest modern political leaders in the world today. They mock her each and every day, saying she’s out of touch, hanging on to power through loopholes and giveaways, decrying how unfit she seems mentally. What if though, it was all an act. Carefully calculated within her veil of self-awareness. She knows what counts, which is why she tweets bizarre things and over simplifies narratives. And if that isn’t political smartness, what is?