When Iran’s opposition protesters used Twitter and other forms of social media last year to let the world know about their regime’s brutal post-election crackdown, activists praised Twitter as the tool of revolution and freedom. But now Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has figured out how to twist this tool into one of repression. Though as recently as this past January Chávez was decrying Twitter as a weapon of terrorists, he’s since turned into an avid Twitterer himself (his account, the country’s most popular, boasted more than half a million followers at press time), as well as a devoted Facebook user and blogger.
Far from embracing the democratic spirit of the Web, though, the Venezuelan strongman is using his accounts and blog to exhort people to spy on each other. At the launch of his Twitter account, Chávez enjoined the Bolivarian faithful to use it to keep an eye on state enemies, namely the wealthy. “My Twitter account is open for you to denounce them,” Chávez announced on his television program. El Presidente has hired a staff of 200 to deal with tweeted “requests, denunciations, and other problems,” which have resulted in actions against allegedly credit-stingy banks and currency speculators. He’s now considering going a step further, and ruling that all Venezuelan Web sites must move from U.S.-based servers to domestic ones—which would, of course, make them far easier to control. Big Brother would be proud.