Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Comparing the candidates' websites

Rodrigo Ávila and Mauricio Funes are in the midst of the campaign for the presidency of El Salvador, although elections are not until March 2009. I decided to take a look at how the campaigns are using the internet.

The campaign website of Rodrigo Ávila, www.rodrigopresidente.com, has a clean, traditional design with lots of use of multimedia -- videos, audio clips and photo galleries. There is a candidate's blog (although the most recent entry is from February). It could be any political candidate's website in the US (and one blogger pointed out the similarity in typefaces, color scheme and general layout with the website of Barrack Obama).

As far as I can tell, Funes does not have a separate campaign website. The website of the FMLN, fmln.org.sv, however, somewhat plays that role. Right now the opening page tells you that a new website is under construction, and invites you to click on a link to proceed to the old website. Unlike the slick polish of Avila's website, this FMLN site is pretty barren. Most bizarre is probably the two pictures chosen to be in a Flickr photo gallery. One picture is a Satanic-looking FMLN official (the mayor of Ciudad Delgado?) and the other is a picture of Mauricio Funes' head in a cowboy hat.

But this is not really the old FMLN web site. For whatever reason, the FMLN has removed almost all of the historical content from its website. One can't help but wonder if the FMLN and its candidate decided to remove the historical pictures of FMLN leaders pledging their solidarity to the Bolivarian revolution of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or standing arm-in-arm with Fidel Castro. If you want to explore some archives of the old FMLN website, you can still do so through the means of the Internet archive "Wayback Machine" at this link.

In contrast, the web site of ARENA seems to revel in its past and its founding by Roberto D'Aubuisson. Audio addresses by D'Aubuisson are available on the front page of the web site, and there are photo galleries with historical figures from the parties' past. Avila's web site contains photos of the party's latest presidential candidate standing in front of a giant photo of D'Aubuisson or near the statue of the party's founder in ARENA headquarters.

What Funes lacks in a formal website, is compensated for in a legion of supporters who are blogging for him, creating YouTube videos, posting in forums and more. (To get the flavor, just type "Mauricio Funes presidente 2009" in Google). A good example is the YouTube channel of Funes supporter Francisquito1989.

Does the Internet make a significant difference in political campaigns in El Salvador? Probably not. Easy access to the Internet is not widespread in the country (perhaps only 637,000 users or slightly more than 10% of the population in 2007) and not where most people are turning for their information. Still, it is clear that the parties and their supporters are devoting time and resources to this cyber-campaign.


boz said...

My guess is that internet usage is far higher than 10%. Most stats under-report internet usage in Latin America because they only accurately measure home usage. Most people don't have home computers in El Salvador, but many more access the internet via schools, work, cybercafes and even their cell phones.

Salvadorans also have incentive as there is a huge expat community that they want to communicate with.

I wouldn't be surprised if the actual figure was 40% or higher.

Tim said...

Good point boz.

Solavá said...

If El Salvador has 637,000 users of Internet (and this probably would mean individual accounts, I suppose), that would mean access to the Internet is higher than I thought. You need to remember that households in El Salvador tend to be larger, about 4.5 persons per family on average. In other words, that number of connections would represent about 50% of households, although I haven't separated business connections, but in any case, that would mean that many people can access the internet through their work.

But clearly, the primary distinction of how Internet is used by the two campaigns is the one you make of Avila marketing his image versus bloggers creating their own grassroots propaganda.

El-Visitador said...

Anecdotal note, from observing friends and family:

Nearly zero internet research or reading. Computers are used, in order of time spent:
1.- Chat
2.- Hotmail (yes, '90s-style)
3.- Skype
4.- Spanish League Football
4a.- Pirate music downloads
5.- Christmas: shopping online for some imported gadget
6.- Some Salvadorean online banking. Though I try to dissuade them from doing so because of the enourmous risk of having their passwords compromised (unless they are using a Mac, of course, in which case they are safe)

Most have never heard of blogs, or if they have, they might think it's something that strange people from faraway places do.


Although E.V. may be substantially right, I agree with the previous users who say that computer use may be a larger factor than the usage stats would suggest. For one thing, I am aware that various group leaders use email and I know that news that is not otherwise covered in the media tends to sweep across the Salvadoran community (e.g., the expats) pretty quickly. I remember finding out about the death of Esquino Lisco, for example, and Rufina Amaya, not by reading La Prensa Grafica, but by opening my email. I suspect that the Salvadoran conoscenti will use the Internet in savvy ways that the rest of us will be analyzing a year or two years hence.

Anonymous said...

Internet is a good way to get out a message here only if you are not in a hurry. I was wanting to contact a large group of people in our church about a change of time for a meeting, so my first thought was an email. But my national friends shot that one down. Not many have home internet, and they pass through the internet cafe every few days to check emails, etc. The solution was a text message that went out in a few minutes and within hours everyone knew what was happening.

HODAD26 said...

I will have to go with E-V this time

latinos no sabe mucho de utilizacion de 'La Red'
and time spent as he wrote 'probably is correct'
que lastima

just how it is,mainly a common sense
and Polycarpio says text message is faster, more expensive, but a bit more efficient
I would say 10-15%

ProudTexasWoman said...

What surprises me is that I would have predicted that, as a journalist, Funes would not only have his own site, but a better one than ARENA's. While it's true that ARENA's base, tending to be the part of the population with greatest access to resources, would be the one that most needs to be impressed with Internet geegaws, that's all the more reason for Funes and the FMLN to put in at least a little time developing a decent Web presence. It also would be beneficial in terms of cultivating exterior relations with the expats, many of whom presently have TPS status if not permanent resident status in the U.S., and thus potentially could go home to vote.

As for usage ... it's true that each account would represent far more users than it appears. Still, out in the boonies of northeastern El Salvador, where my in-laws live, it's not part of regular life for most people. My husband's area doesn't have wired electricity yet; I do know that a teacher at the local elementary school has a computer, but I don't think he has Internet. There are Internet businesses here and there in Morazán, for example, but I don't know anyone personally who has a computer other than that teacher, and the cell phones our family and friends have are pretty basic. It's partly going to be a question of whom you're hoping to reach with your Internet materials.

boz said...

Going to E.V.'s comment, it's definitely true that IM and e-mail are the two main usages for internet in Latin America. Political information is far down the list.

Still, it's taking an increasing role and no candidate wants to be left behind the curve. Websites may not reach every voter, but candidates ignore it at their own peril.