Elections Colombia: From the megaphone of social networks to the Colombian Congress | International

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Catherine Juvinao is one of the influencers running for the Colombian House of Representatives.out bums

They have become famous on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. With videos that outrage and cause controversy or through columns in the media. The social outbreak of 2021 was his springboard. Are the influencers and journalists who aspire to reach the Colombian Congress next Sunday.

The phenomenon gained strength during the year of the protests and encompassed all the political parties that searched, among television actresses, sports journalists and other well-known characters on social networks, for new figures with whom to attract voters tired of parties and traditional forms of politics. Despite the fervor at the beginning, along the way many decided to resign, and now there are at least 11 well-known personalities on these platforms who seek to win seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Republic.

Jorge Alberto Tejada is perhaps one of the best known. A journalist from Channel 2, from Cali, he reported the abuses of the Mobile Anti-riot Squad (Esmad) during the strike in this city, the epicenter of police repression and the place where there was also greater resistance from the protesters. The lord of channel 2as is known, reported through Facebook and was invited by Gustavo Petro to be the first option on the list of the Historical Pact, the leftist coalition, in Cali.

In Puerto Resistencia, as the Puerto Rellena neighborhood is known, where the largest demonstrations in the city took place, they sell their image as handicrafts and have their quarry of voters. Tejada defines himself as a social democrat and says that it was the young people of those neighborhoods who invited him to do politics and proposed him to Petro, who decided to put him at the head of the list of candidates for the Chamber. There he saw the "meanness of the political environment," he says in conversation with this newspaper. Because other leaders criticized him as an "upstart and with little experience in politics", although he defends that he has done social work and directs an NGO for decades.

For Tejada, the presence of journalists and leaders on the lists for this Congress speaks of the weariness of traditional politics. “I think this phenomenon occurs because that package of traditional politicians who have made politics for their personal agendas is very burnt out; second, because some independent journalists from the economic groups have emerged and we could refresh our gaze; and, thirdly, in my case, because the girl sought me out, ”she says.

Other parties such as the reborn New Liberalism, of the assassinated political leader Luis Carlos Galán, also chose a well-known communicator in the media. Afro-Colombian journalist Mabel Lara, a well-known face in Colombian homes, heads the list for the Senate. “Since they made me so many proposals to get into politics, and for more than a decade I said no, I thought that if this was going to happen, I was going to prepare myself. And I went to the academy. After my election year in Washington I said to myself: why not? Why not bet on it? This proposal convinced me”, Lara told this newspaper. For her, it also had to do with the frustration of her journalistic exercise. “I worked on a news program that I think is the riskiest in Colombia, and despite the complaints, one realized that not much was happening. That starts to generate constant frustration for you,” she explained. In addition to Tejada and Lara, there are other well-known columnists such as Ariel Ávila, who aspires to the Senate for the Green Party, or Sandra Borda, for the New Liberalism, who have jumped from the academy to electoral politics.

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If the strike functioned as a springboard, the indignation produced by the scandals in the current Congress has been the mine for several activists who are trying to renew the Legislative. Catherine Juvinao, from the Green Alliance, is one of those who has best capitalized on it. Journalist and activist, she created the campaign "Out Vagos", which criticized the absenteeism of parliamentarians and the falsity in the academic titles of several congressmen. She now she tries to go to the other side promising to be the observer of the Congress from within. There is also María Fernanda Carrascal, who presents herself as an "influencer" of social networks and is running for the Historical Pact to the Chamber for Bogotá, she has campaigned against the financial sector and in defense of the peace process.

Anti-Uribeism and memes have been another quarry for new candidates, such as Francisco Rojas, who is behind the Orange Movement, a political humor page. He is now running for the Senate for the left-wing Citizen Force movement, without hiding his origin: "We don't just make memes, we want to change this country with the flags of progressivism!" “We take the step to the political to be where the decisions of the country that is in Congress are made. We mark a historical milestone: we are the first page of memes that is presented for a position of popular election, ”Rojas appears on his networks.

Cristina Vélez, director of Linterna Verde, an independent organization that investigates how public opinion is built on social networks, explains that it is necessary to separate them into categories. Some are called celebrities that for years they presented themselves to Congress; others are political influencers, whose presence is indeed new in their aspiration to Congress; and others journalists and columnists.

“Political influencers is a very interesting category. They first build a voice where they try to tell politics in a different way. There were those of fashion or gastronomy, but there was that same need of young people to receive political information packaged with a close and deconstructed face, by figures from an intimate relationship, "explains Vélez. “That was the space in which personalities like Juvinao or Carrascal or Oswaldo Ortíz or Gilberto Tobón (candidates) began to play, whose role is a kind of mediumwho tell politics on a daily basis”.

In August 2020, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies launched a guide to good practices through influencers and defined them as "the person who, through social networks and digital or interactive platforms, by sharing their daily lives, interests and experiences with an online community, it has achieved credibility, trust and a recognizable image that allows it to influence, affect or motivate consumer behavior”.

Vélez considers that this definition applies to these personalities because they influence consumption decisions linked to voting. “Now they are making a very complex transition: from being influencers who have told politics, embodying it in their everyday characters, in their lives, in a position in which you can be critical and use words that polarize, they would move to a position in which that, having an investiture, they must make consensus for bills. They can collide with the geopolitics of Congress, where the number of followers you have does not matter”.

The strategy of searching for these new voices has been used in all the parties. In the Democratic Center they have Miguel Polo Polo, an Uribista influencer, who vehemently defends the most radical positions of the right. Supported by Congresswoman María Fernanda Cabal, the young man runs to the Chamber to occupy one of the Afro seats. He had already been an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of his hometown, Tolú.

Something similar to the story of Christian YouTuber Oswaldo Ortiz, a controversial pastor who ran for election in 2018 and was not elected. He had also been welcomed into the government party by Cabal and was known for referring to the LGBTI community as a “gay lobby”, “gay dictatorship” or “mariquinaria”. He now he tries again to the Senate also for the Democratic Center promoting "antixenophobia" and "antisocialism".

The presence of these personalities also speaks of a change in the way politics is done. “Before it worked from the bottom up, micro networks were built with the neighbors, a neighborhood leader and a city coordinator and the pyramid was pulled; now, there is an interesting phenomenon in the public sphere and that is that there is a part of that conversation that is digital and that is mediated by algorithms”, says Vélez. The parties identified it and have searched among people who are visible, have credibility or are recognized experts to "take those people who are already appearing in people's clicks and build political characters." Only on Sunday will it be known if they manage to translate their network followers and their likes in concrete and real votes.

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