The president of Ecuador is sick and tired of cyber bullies mocking him with Facebook memes. And now he's fighting back by creating a "volunteer" cyber army armed with pro-government propaganda.
The first target in President Rafael Correa’s cyberwar is "Crudo Ecuador," an obscure Facebook page that specializes in political memes. The page recently published this meme showing the president holding a shopping bag inside a luxury mall in Holland. The top part of the meme shows recent declarations by Correa in which he said that he would tax online shoppers who buy goods from other countries, because their conduct is bad for Ecuadorean business.
The meme bothered the president so much that he went on a six-minute rant against the Facebook page during his weekly TV address. Correa accused Crudo Ecuador of being “financed” by the opposition and said the page was part of a “systemic effort” to ruin his reputation.
And that's not all. Correa claims the Facebook page uses “advanced software” to detect any mention of him on the internet, then “turns things around” to make fun of him in the form of a meme.
“It’s what intelligence services use to detect terrorist activity,” Correa said.
To set the record straight, the president said he is not a fan of shopping overseas. He said he ducked into the mall only to “avoid the cold weather,” and was carrying handmade Ecuadorean decorations inside the shopping bag.
Correa then threatened to unleash an army of cyber “volunteers” to troll sites like Crudo Ecuador with pro-government messages. Similar online propaganda tactics have been employed by the governments of Venezuela, Mexico and Nicaragua.
“We are already taking measures, which we will tell you about next week,” Correa said during his Saturday televised address. “We will have thousands of our people on social media, ready to react to these stupidities and acts of manipulation.”
Crudo Ecuador was an obscure Facebook and Twitter page before Correa railed against it on national TV. The site removed the shopping bag meme of Correa from its Facebook page, but posted another drawing thanking the president for helping them boost their online followers.
Crudo Ecuador's anti-Correa activity has continued this week. Here’s a cartoon it published after the attack. It was drawn by Bonil, a cartoonist that has been dragged to court for mocking a pro-government congressman.
It’s not the first time that Correa has targeted the media and accused journalists and online content providers of plotting against his government.
The president famously threatened Guayaquil newspaper El Universo with an $80 million dollar lawsuit in 2011, for a column that allegedly lied about his role in a police revolt.
Reporters Without Borders says Correa's government has designed media laws that hamper freedom of speech by making it easy to sue journalists over vague offenses such as “not providing relevant information” or “attempting to hurt someone’s prestige.”
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.