Paraguay: The president's alleged tweets

[Global Voices authors occasionally submit articles to The Economist's Babbage blog about technology. This story was originally published on July 12, 2010. Read more about our partnership here.]

July 1st It’s easy to say I’m a liar @alfredojaeggli, but you are not far behind…

July 1st @osvaldozayas @santiori You are right, @alfredojaeggli is unpresentable.

FERNANDO LUGO, the president of Paraguay, has never had an easy time with his senate. The opposition holds an absolute majority. And during the president’s state of the country address on July 1st, Alfredo Jaeggli, an opposition senator, stood up several times, blew on a vuvuzela and pulled out a red card. It might be easy to understand, then, if the President forgot himself on Twitter and wrote the messages excerpted above. But the president denies that he uses any social network. This raises two questions: How easy is it to confirm an identity on a social network, and how plausible is the president’s denial?

Mr Lugo’s denial came after Ultima Hora, the second-largest newspaper in Paraguay, reported on the day of Mr Jaeggli's vuvuzela that “The president of the republic wrote several tweets, and more than one dedicated to the senator.” Two hours later, the president's press office offered a response:

The head of state is not personally linked to any social networks (Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, etc.) nor there is a governmental communication office that operates a like network on his behalf.

A Twitter account claiming to be Mr Lugo’s became active in December last year. Since then, the account has posted links to a Flickr account with more than 11,000 photos from trips, official events and even of Mr Lugo watching a Paraguay football match at his home. The Twitter account also featured links to videos on Youtube, one of them of the president greeting his “friends from the internet community”. Ultima Hora acknowledged that it did not have an official confirmation that the account belonged to the president, but argued that it often used the account for official photos, which were linked from the Twitter account even before they reached the president's website. Andres Colman, a journalist from Ultima Hora, posted on Facebook that someone from the president's press office had confided in him that

[the press office] had created a Twitter account, but Lugo tweeted very little, so most of the time they had to fill the space by uploading photos, videos, etc. of his activities. That’s why we were so sure that it was an account ran from the presidency’s office.

But let’s assume for a minute that what the president´s office said is true: someone stole the president’s identity. It doesn´t let him off the hook. It means that his press office allowed someone to use the president’s identity for six months, prompting confusion among journalists and the online community. And if the statement from the president’s office isn’t true, and the account is, in fact, his? He now knows that online identities, like offline identities, leave a verifiable trail over time. The longer one exists, the less plausible a defence like “someone stole my identity” sounds. Either way, Mr Lugo should have known better by now.

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