Lacking Basic Supplies, Venezuelans Turn to Social Media

Hands typing on the laptop
Embroiled in economic recession, high inflation, and shortages of critical supplies, Venezuelans are using social media to vent their frustrations as well as to provide information about obtaining everyday reports that Venezuela’s economic policies, and sanctions imposed by the United States, have had a severe impact on the OPEC-member country. Their economy is predicted to decrease 5% this year after having shrunk 4% last year. Nearly one-third of basic goods are missing, according to the central bank scarcity index (the publication of which was suspended last year). The drop of oil prices over the past few months has made the economic plight of Venezuelans even graver as it becomes heavily reliant on foreign imports.As a result, Venezuelan citizens have been going to social media sites and online forums to both criticize the government and to provide information about much-needed supplies such as foodstuffs, medicine, and toiletries.”When your family cannot get diapers, or a neighbor does not have a certain medicine to offer, people use what they have handy, which is the social network,” said Luis Carlos Díaz, a Venezuelan expert in social media. “They use it as a big collective intelligence.” Nearly five million Venezuelans — a sixth of the population — have a Twitter account, and twice as many people own a smartphone. One sign of the economic times has been the advent of mobile apps geared toward finding supplies. For example, Akiztá (which sounds similar to “aquí está” or “here it is”) allows users to check for medicines from pharmacies that post their inventories online. Abastéceme (“supply me”) uses crowdsourcing to help people locate supplies such as flour and milk. Nearly 70% of pharmaceuticals are scare or unavailable, according to the Pharmaceutical Federation. Citizens also use Twitter to find supplies. But perhaps more importantly, the social media site features individual campaigns and sources of political opposition. The “Impatient People of Venezuela” handle, for example, has location and donation services for the grandmother of Gabriel Domínguez, who couldn’t find pharmaceutical drugs for her on his own. Another Twitter handle, @dolartoday, provides information on the black-market dollar rate derived from a website banned by the government. Ironically, Venezuelan politicians are some of the most followed tweeters in the world. President Nicolás Maduro, for example, has 2.3 million followers. He launched a Twitter campaign in April to protest new American sanctions on several government officials. The #ObamaRepealTheExecutiveOrder campaign saw more than 4.2 million tweets and retweets. Google has also picked up on this activity in their search engine. Meanwhile, opposition leader Henrique Capriles has more than 5.1 million followers, making him the most followed Latin American politician on Twitter. Venezuela’s reliance on social media and search engines (which procures 39% of customers, according to a MarketingCharts survey) reflects the citizens’ growing troubles and their distrust of traditional media outlets. However, some are concerned that the government, which has not been hesitant to censor media outlets, may try to curb or get rid of these social media sites altogether. “When a government has censored media outlets, blocked web pages and detained users for tweeting information, you can believe that at any moment they could block the network,” said Laura Solórzano, an active Twitter user. “Without it, life will be tougher for many…and the government knows that.”