Hugo Chavez joins the Twitterati
President Hugo Chavez has joined the ranks of those who say, "If you can't beat 'em, tweet 'em".
Facing a flurry of cyberspace critics, the Venezuelan leader known for hours-long speeches made a revolutionary move on Wednesday, sending his first message from a Twitter account where his missives are limited to 140 characters.
"Hey how's it going? I appeared like I said I would: at midnight. I'm off to Brazil. And very happy to work for Venezuela. We will be victorious!!" it read.
Just as Mr Chavez has been cracking down on traditional media, he finds himself on the defensive against an internet-based opposition doing battle with computers and mobile phones.
"As the government has tightened the screws on the media, the use of the internet, blogs, Twitter and so forth has grown exponentially," said radio host and newspaper columnist Nelson Bocaranda, whose witty anti-Chavez commentary has earned him more than 140,000 followers on Twitter.
Of the 200 Venezuelans most followed on Twitter, close to 90 percent side with Mr Chavez's opposition, said Carlos Jimenez, director of the Caracas-based online polling firm Tendencias Digitales. But he expects "Chavistas" to catch up.
Already, the president's Twitter account, "chavezcandanga," is headed toward the top of Venezuela's most-popular list, gaining more than 79,000 followers less than 24 hours after he sent his first message. "Candanga" roughly translates to "devil" in some Latin American countries, though in Venezuela it can mean "rabble-rouser."
"The opposition thinks it owns the social networking sites. They think Twitter and Facebook belong to them," said Diosdado Cabello, head of the state-run telecommunications regulator.
"We're fighting and there are 7 million of us who will have Twitter," Mr Cabello added, referring to members of Mr Chavez's socialist party, adding that their tweets would carry messages "from our commander".
More than 8.7 million Venezuelans were regular internet users as of January, or about 30% of the population, up from 25% in 2008, according to Tendencias Digitales. Some 350,000 of those users were registered on Twitter, a tenfold increase from 2009. More than 5.4 million Venezuelans were registered as Facebook users, double those in the previous year.