By: Kristin Nehls
Edited by: Steve Gartner
Tweeting, blogging and networking on Facebook may not sound like the most sophisticated of cultural endeavors, but the growing worldwide dependence on social media shows that a deeper cross-cultural understanding has resulted from Ecuador’s recent strides towards a greater online presence.
In 2009 Ecuador saw the First Meeting of Online Media, organized by Ciudadania Informada; the revival of the EcuaBlogs community of blogs; and the creation of podcastEC, which covers technology and internet-related topics.
These events, combined with the sudden effort of Ecuadorian bloggers to modernize their blogging techniques, have created a climate that lands Ecuador in the middle of a social media revolution.
Exemplifying Ecuador’s progression in social media is Paúl Barahona, whose blog Palulo.ec receives thousands of hits each day. Barahona of Quito attributes this to his online branding, he said, and his tendency to follow American trends of technological analysis and editorial-style journalism.
Barahona is a rarity in a culture whose social media gurus are sparse, he said. He is one of the few Ecuadorian bloggers who goes beyond using a blog as an emotional outlet, instead using it to cultivate his international knowledge and build an online presence.
“[Social media] allows me to know people of different backgrounds… with related inclinations,” Barahona said. “Inclinations that yearn for technology, communication, experimentation. If not for the social networks, my knowledge of these things would have been further delayed.”
Such a delay is present in the youth of Ecuador, whose use of online social networks was scarce until 2009, when Facebook saw a 299 percent growth in Ecuadorian users according to a study done by social media researcher Nick Burcher.
Victoria Suarez, a graduate student from Quito, said that she has known about Facebook for only one year. She never felt the need to have a Facebook account because of its irrelevance in her group of friends. It was not until she decided to study in the United States that she created her account
“That was about seven months ago. Since then I think Facebook has exploded in popularity with my Ecuadorian friends,” Suarez said. “We don’t want to be left behind. We don’t want our culture to be the last one to jump on the technology.”
Even so, Suarez said, after spending time in the U.S. she noticed that social media use differs between U.S. students and students in Ecuador.
“Americans, they will check their Facebook every hour. Not in Ecuador,” Suarez said. “Mostly we go on one time each day. Otherwise it becomes an unhealthy habit.”
Fellow student and blogger Xavier Andrango, however, thinks that a little more exposure to social media could give Ecuador the boost that it needs to be a contending player in the online world, he said.
“Sadly, the culture of the internet in this country is in diapers,” Andrango said.
Andrango said that recently Ecuadorian musicians have realized they can use blogs as tools of publicity, a practice successfully implemented by his own band to expand their fan base.
“Social media is not exploited to its fullest potential,” Andrango said. “There is a lack of interest. People discriminate against the channels used [for social media] because they’re poorly structured. The places where I can publish or advertise are very limited.”
To his own dismay, Andrango, like Victoria Suarez, has never heard of Twitter. An October 2009 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says that 18 to 29-year-olds tweet the most in the United States. Andrango and Suarez both fall into that demographic.
The absence of Twitter in Ecuador is replaced by sites ultimately unheard of in the U.S., such as hi5.com and Corporativos.com.
However, growth rates of these networking Web sites are at risk of stalling due to many Ecuadorian Internet users feeling insecure towards the information-abyss of the Internet.
Throughout 2009, multiple nationally regarded Ecuadorian Web sites were hacked, including Ecuador’s National Social Security Website, the Sucre National Theatre’s Website and the Ecuador Aviation School’s Web site. The Ecuadorian blogosphere is abuzz with speculation that these security breaches are a result of the vulnerabilities of the Ecuadorian Domain Registrar.
But Victor Abboud, the Managing Director for the Nic.ec Domain Registry, ensures that proper security measures are in place.
“Anybody that tells you that it’s impossible to hack a Web site is lying,” Abboud said. “I mean it’s not our fault because it’s not that difficult.”
Abboud still recognizes that the upsurge of hackings in 2009 have many Ecuadorians hesitant to plunge into the online world or flourish the personal brand they have already created, he said.
“Every day everybody is learning about this [growth of the Internet and its level of security],” Abboud said. “I know people are worried because there has been some hacking of pages… you have to be aware that that can happen through your Web site.”
But even revolutionizing domains for maximum security will not cultivate the online voice of Ecuadorians if their voices are being stifled.
A censorship fight between the Ecuadorian government and media is affecting the voices of social media users all over the country, said Fernando Astudillo, the Deputy Commander of Editing at the Guayaquil daily newspaper El Universo.
“As recent as December the government shut down Televasio [television station] for censorship problems,” Astudillo said. “Journalism and social media are slowly becoming one, and social media will not prosper if the public is worried their voices, like the journalists’ [voices], will be punished.”
A Quito plane crash in March 2009 was covered most immediately and almost solely by Twitter, Astudillo said, proving that online media and journalism increasingly depend on one another. The threat of an Ecuadorian climate that censors social media looms in the minds of Ecuadorians, Astudillo said.
Despite the challenges posed against Ecuador’s modern-day online revolution, Paúl Barahona looks at Palulo.com, confident that the future of social media in Ecuador will continue to progress.
“Most importantly, my people and my culture are taking an interest,” Barahona said. “Because of this, we will grow. We will improve.”
graphics courtesy of Facebook.com and Twitter.com
Thursday, February 18, 2010
By: Kristin Nehls