Ecuador’s president is challenging his critics to insult him on Twitter.
But do so at your own risk. President Rafael Correa says he’ll retweet every single insult, so that his army of twitter followers can help him track down offenders’ names and addresses.
“There are so many cowards who are hiding behind anonymity to insult,” the Twitter-obsessed president said during his weekly television show on Saturday. “Let’s see if they are brave enough when we know who they are and where they live.”
The unusual challenge is not exactly the first shot fired in Correa’s increasingly strange and sophomoric Twitter war against his opponents, nor is it his first attack on free speech.
Correa, 53, has previously used the bully pulpit of his weekly TV show to single out individual Facebook and Twitter users who have mocked him online. Last year, the president created a website where his online followers can get alerts about the social media accounts of people who are attacking the government's so-called “citizen’s revolution”
Correa seems to relish in his online activism. In April, he invited his most ardent social media backers to the presidential palace for his birthday, and even joined them for some karaoke after cutting his birthday cake.
“There was a smile on his face the whole time he spent with his Twitter followers,” reported Ecuadorean daily El Comercio.
Correa's unusual obsession with Twitter has not gone unnoticed by the international media. Last year, John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight even dedicated a 5-minute bit to Correa's Twitter war and his apparent “sensitivity” to criticism.
“Nobody has ever won a Twitter war,” Oliver told Correa, who has a Phd in economics from a U.S. university. “If your skin was any thinner, you’d be a taint.”
But for Correa and his supporters, efforts to shame Twitter critics are a way of ensuring “freedom of speech” and civility on social media.
In a press release last year, Correa’s office defended efforts to set up a website that shames and outs his critics on social media. The site, known as Somos Mas (there are more of us) encourages its followers to flood Correa’s most violent Twitter critics with messages, and has already managed to force some people to close their accounts.
“For many years social media users have occupied this space to insult, defame, and even issue threats, while hiding behind anonymous [accounts],” the statement from Correa’s office reads. “You cannot defame or insult people in the name of free speech.”
Correa has also been at loggerheads with the mainstream media for years, accusing the country’s top newspapers of teaming up with Ecuador’s right-wing elites to launch campaigns to destabilize his government.
In response to the alleged “destabilization” campaigns, Correa’s government has created laws that make it easier for politicians and regular citizens to sue media outlets over a series of loosely defined offenses. Journalists in the country complain that these media laws have hindered their ability to do critical reporting, and the laws have also come under fire from international press freedom groups.
If you want to be among the first to answer Correa's Twitter challenge, here's his account: @mashirafael. But first ask yourself: Are you “brave enough”?
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.