Spain's far-right the clear leader on social media

The leader of Spain's Vox party, Santiago Abascal, voted on Sunday (April 28) in an election expected to produce a sizeable far right presence in parliament for the first time since the country's return to democracy.
Mr Santiago Abascal (left), leader of right-wing party Vox, delivering a speech in Madrid on Friday, ahead of Spain's general election today. His rivals include Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (right) of the Socialist Party, seen here speaking i
Mr Santiago Abascal (above), leader of right-wing party Vox, delivering a speech in Madrid on Friday, ahead of Spain's general election today. His rivals include Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party, seen here speaking in Valencia on Friday. Social media analysis group Social Elephants said Vox's messages on Twitter and Facebook generated the most interactions out of the five main parties over the past month.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mr Santiago Abascal (left), leader of right-wing party Vox, delivering a speech in Madrid on Friday, ahead of Spain's general election today. His rivals include Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (right) of the Socialist Party, seen here speaking i
Mr Santiago Abascal, leader of right-wing party Vox, delivering a speech in Madrid on Friday, ahead of Spain's general election today. His rivals include Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (above) of the Socialist Party, seen here speaking in Valencia on Friday. Social media analysis group Social Elephants said Vox's messages on Twitter and Facebook generated the most interactions out of the five main parties over the past month.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Right-wing Vox looks set to enter Parliament, with strategy of direct online outreach, rallies

MADRID • Like United States President Donald Trump and France's Marine Le Pen, Spain's far-right party Vox has made a point of dominating social media with its hardline rhetoric ahead of elections today.

Shunning traditional media, the newcomer party's strategy is to target potential voters on social networks and generate as much of a buzz as possible, even if it is bad.

And it is working. Opinion polls predict that Vox will enter Parliament for the first time in the parliamentary elections, coming in fifth.

Social media analysis group Social Elephants said Vox's messages on Twitter and Facebook generated the most interactions - referring to messages that are liked, shared or commented on - out of the five main parties over the past month.

Specifically, a third of all the five parties' interactions came from Vox.

With ultra-nationalist messages that bash illegal immigration and abortion, and videos showing leader Santiago Abascal riding a horse or standing under the rain in a picturesque part of Spain, the party provokes as much enthusiasm as rage.

"They've awakened the beast," one admiring online user said last week, reacting to a video of Mr Abascal predicting the end of the "liberal dictatorship" in Spain after the elections. Spain was ruled by dictator Francisco Franco after its civil war, which took place from 1936 to 1939, until his death in 1975.

"They are so scary," said another concerned user.

Relegated to the distant margins of politics until December last year, when it erupted on the scene in regional elections in Andalusia, Vox could get around 30 lawmakers out of 350, according to opinion polls.

But analysts now believe it could do even better, saying there may be many "hidden" Vox supporters who lie when asked by pollsters who they will be voting for.

 
 

Largely shunning traditional media, Vox has opted "for a strategy of direct communication through social networks, through rallies with lots of people", Mr Abascal told Spanish radio last week.

He said his party had felt "pretty badly treated" by traditional media in the past, which "distorted many of our proposals".

Professor Ruben Durante of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies said that "what matters to a party that doesn't have visibility in traditional media and doesn't have representation in institutions is that people talk about them, even if it's negative".

"Controversial arguments attract attention and in the end, they win, because those who criticise aren't those who would vote for them," added the expert in social networks and democracy.

On Twitter, Vox generated 1.1 million interactions over the past month compared with 886,000 for far-left party Podemos, which has always been very active online, according to Social Elephants.

That is more than double the interactions of the Socialist Party, centre-right Ciudadanos and the conservative Popular Party (PP).

Vox generated all those interactions by sending an average of just 11 messages a day, compared with 27 for Podemos or 50 for Ciudadanos. It also has far fewer Twitter followers than other parties: 240,000, compared with Podemos' 1.37 million, PP's 705,000, the Socialists' 670,000 and Ciudadanos' 518,000.

"If you're Vox, you can identify people who don't vote or won't vote, with specific interests like hunting... and target these people," said Prof Durante.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 28, 2019, with the headline 'Spain's far-right the clear leader on social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe