Imagine if you had an app that could mash-up video clips from Donald Trump speeches to make the Republican candidate say anything you wanted him to. Do you think you could out-crazy him with his own words?
That's the challenge facing Ecuadoreans, who are using a new website that allows them to put words in their president's mouth.
It's called the "Mashi Machine," a play on President Rafael Correa's Twitter handle. People can type any phrase they want into the site and it will use those keywords to produce original clips by mixing real speeches made by the president. The videos are shareable on social media, like this clip I made of Correa singing Daddy Yankee:
Rafael Correa, is one of Latin America’s most loquacious presidents. His speeches and weekly TV addresses tend to last for hours on end. All that talking has produced a trove of raw material to draw from in Mashi Machine's custom-message word scramble.
Some people are using the app to mock Correa's policies, like this video that has the president trying to tax everything.
Others are just having fun, using the program to make remixed music videos.
Like Trump, Correa is known for hurling colorful insults at his opponents, whom he has described alternately as “cowards” and “bigwigs." But the Ecuadorean president is on a whole different level when it comes to limiting the free speech of others. He has torn newspapers in half on live TV, singled out Twitter critics by name, and even challenged an opposition leader to a fist fight for questioning his government.
Martin Pallares, one of the journalists behind the Mashi Machine site, says that Ecuadoreans needed a new way to express their frustration with their irascible president. That's why the app has been such an instant hit; more than 90,000 mock Correa videos have been created on the site since it launched Friday evening.
“It’s been cathartic,” Pallares told me in a phone interview. “For many years Correa monopolized freedom of speech here and became the only one who could say whatever he wanted. Now, we are giving people the chance to say whatever they want to through him.”
This message mocks Correa’s tendency to accuse everyone in the opposition of plotting coups against his government.
Another user, frustrated with the president’s fiscal policies, made this video where the president says, “I’m an economist who doesn’t know about economics. I only know how to say dumb things.”
President Correa hasn’t publicly responded to the app so far. But Pallares says his site has already received several attacks from hackers, presumably government supporters who are trying to jam it.
“We had lots of log-in attempts where people were trying to create videos without typing any words,” Pallares said. “Some people reported that they had trouble using the site from their mobile phones.”
The Mashi Machine was created by 4Pelagatos, an Ecuadorean news site that focuses mostly on political analysis. The media company aspires to promote critical journalism, and is run by three former newspaper editors who say that Ecuador’s strict communications laws forced them out of their previous jobs.
Ecuador’s media laws make it relatively easy for government officials and anyone else who feels their “reputation” has been tarnished to sue newspapers. The law also regulates private ownership of media outlets and it has created a regulatory agency made up of officials picked by the government, that often forces newspapers to publish long replies to articles that are critical of government officials.
The government says the laws are necessary to combat “misinformation” and to “democratize” media. But international press freedom groups have described the laws as “excessive” and “problematic.”
Correa has been at loggerheads with the media since the early years of his presidency, threatening some newspapers with multi-million dollar lawsuits and accusing journalists of being “ink assassins.”
But Pallares says the laws do not regulate online media, so the site should be safe legally. “What can they accuse us of anyways?” Pallares joked. “The President is saying everything himself.”
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.