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Politicians slowly learning the value of a tweet
AMONG the thousands watching this week’s presidential debate for next month’s elections on their TV sets, many were also online on social media services Facebook and Twitter in what marks the internet’s first real entry in Cyprus’ political elections.
The three main contenders, Stavros Malas who is backed by ruling party AKEL, DISY leader Nicos Anastasiades who is also backed by DIKO, and EDEK-backed Giorgos Lillikas, discussed the economy for over two hours on Monday night.
The debate on the economy of our indebted island was broadcast live by Cyprus’ four main TV channels Sigma, Mega, CyBC and Ant1.
People could also watch it online.
The debate was watched by over 70 per cent of TV viewers with about 243,000 viewers for the first part and over 189,000 viewers for the second part that started at about 10.30pm, according to AGB Cyprus Nielsen audience measurement.
Compare those numbers to Facebook users in Cyprus and they suddenly seem small.
Over 582,000 people use Facebook in Cyprus or 99.63 per cent of Cyprus’ online population. This means that almost everyone in Cyprus who is online is on Facebook, according to statistics by company Socialbakers that provides social media network statistics.
There are fewer people on Twitter, but users are growing and many of them participated in a lively debate of their own just as the contenders answered journalists’ questions on TV.
Twitter’s search functionality allowed strangers to interact by adding the term #cyelections2013 on their comments.
Highlights included the user who proposed a drinking game for the next debate.
You can try this at home. Simply have a drink whenever a candidate mentions says “I promise”, “I commit” and of course, “banks”.
Another person relished in the prospect of this week’s popular spoof show Patates Antinachtes.
Those who were unconvinced by Lillkas’ proposal to pre-sell part of natural gas found at Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, which he kept returning to, were quick to poke fun.
“Rumour has it that Lillikas has promised Chuck Norris a ministry, only in this way will he accomplish what he says,” one Twitter user said, referring to the martial artist and actor whose action films’ characters sometimes do accomplish the impossible.
People were also quick to spot inconsistencies and mistakes.
When Malas tried to fudge his ignorance of the price of fuel, hesitantly suggesting it went for €1.17 per litre (he didn’t specify which kind), people were quick to comment. One user joked: “I am the petrol station owner where fuel goes for €1.17,” plenty pointed out that fuel (unleaded 95) actually went for €1.37 at the very least, while another one declared that she would have gone round the world with fuel that cheap.
They were equally unkind to Lillikas who translated directly from English the expression “brain drain” and told a live audience that Cyprus’ “brains are leaking”.
One commenter told Lillikas that his brain was probably leaking natural gas, a dig at Lillikas’ single focus on his natural gas proposal, despite its dismissal by experts.
Anastasiades got off relatively lightly though not without the odd joke about his relationship with the island’s European partners, which monopolised his part of the debate, in light of last week’s high profile European People’s Party summit in Limassol which was attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
One person said he wanted to see Anastasiades and Merkel hold hands.
Joking aside, both on Facebook and Twitter would-be voters criticised the contenders for failing to answer questions.
But there were plenty who used the internet to express support for their candidate of choice.
This should come as no surprise as particularly in the case of Twitter, users tend to come from political parties and the media, said Demetris Demetriou, a commentator on technology news and the head of online news portal www.cyprusnews.eu
Nonetheless, the three main contenders are reaching a wide audience on Facebook and Twitter in their electoral campaign.
Nicos Anastasiades who has had an online presence since 2010 has over 10,000 likes on Facebook, and over 1,000 followers on Twitter.
Lillikas who got a Facebook page last year has over 3,360 likes on Facebook and about 400 followers on Twitter.
Latecomer Stavros Malas who only got a Facebook page in December last year has already amassed about 4,220 likes on Facebook and some 320 followers on Twitter.
But all three are using the internet in the same way “to release photographs, videos and news releases”, Demetriou said.
“They are not using social media for interaction and to exchange views,” Demetriou said.
What does happen is that people interact with each other and the candidates’ online presence gives them a platform for discussion, Demetriou added.
Take Anastasiades’ latest clip that was aired during a commercial break on Monday’s debate. Anastasiades’ team shared the video clip on his Facebook page and dozens of people commented. In addition to the expressions of support, people also engaged in debate. But there was no direct interaction with Anastasiades or his team.
“This is a first for Cyprus, which is a mitigating factor,” Demetriou said adding that their presence was “promising for the future”.
It costs at least €2,000 a month to advertise on Facebook, Demetriou said although TV ads are much more costly, if not as labour-intensive.
As it stands, taking the plunge to a different marketing strategy focusing on the internet would require a dedicated team of some ten people to monitor various aspects of a candidate’s online presence - from managing ads, to responding to comments and having dedicated people on specific sites - as well a decision to shift budgets to online media, Demetriou said.
And in the coming weeks, we should see more online advertising and in various forms, from banner ads on news websites to promoted news articles and advertising on Facebook, Demetriou said.
He added that all three teams were also using the internet to inform their voters of candidates’ views.
And what definitely happens is that candidates and their teams use people’s social media presence as a way to get feedback on their campaigns.
Malas’ spokesman, the MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou, was in Strasbourg at the European Parliament for Cyprus’ presentation of the results of presidency of the EU council at the same time as Demetriou who noticed that Hadjigeorgiou was checking out Twitter during the presidential debate.
Expect a more pronounced internet presence in future elections, Demetriou said.
After all, “[politicians’] clients as it were are online”.