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Could regionalism in Spain be the secret to Tuenti’s success?

1 Apr

by Ben Miller

@ben_at_city

The social make-up of Spain is not dissimilar to that of the UK. We are both comprised of forcedly united peoples who have still not completely managed to gel (ideologically) into one national identity – despite the unification of both nations’ kingdoms and authoritarian counties centuries ago.

Fast-forward to 2005. The distinct ‘native’ ethnic groups of the British Isles are largely content enclosed in one main political border. Sure, there are still a few in the extreme west of Wales and Cornwall and the North of Scotland (as well as the Isle of Man) who are intent on fighting to the death to prevent Saxon infringement on their Celtic way of life, but nothing like what goes on in Spain every day.

Over there, fervent regionalism is still going strong, governing everyday life in the ‘provincias’.

Regionalistic pride is, in my opinion, the main contributing factor to the ongoing success of social media site Tuenti in Spain.

I set myself a mission to find out if this is true:

Xavier – Catalunya

Sofia – Pais Vasco

Joy – Galicia

http://blog.baquido.com/2010/09/badoo-y-tuenti.html

Tellingly, the mighty Facebook is so dismayed by the fact that Spanish under-21’s prefer Tuenti, that they’ve launched a “young Facebook ambassadors” initiative, paying youngsters to promote Facebook to their peers as THE alternative to Tuenti. Unbelievable!:

http://www.trecebits.com/2010/09/18/facebook-va-a-por-tuenti-y-busca-embajadores-jovenes-que-atraigan-mas-usuarios-en-espana/

Facebook does indeed offer translated pages in virtually every language these days, including all the Spanish minority ones, but it’s the feeling of unity that attracts young Spaniards to favour Tuenti.

http://www.meneame.net/story/no-estar-tuenti-ser-paria-social

Blogger Laura Parkinson suggests different reasons for Tuenti’s resounding success (don’t worry, this one’s in English!): http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/03/how-tuenti-held-off-facebook-in-spain-with-better-privacy068.html

Though her reasoning may well be valid in its own right, it must be noted that her judgement has been formed in one part of Castilian-speaking Spain. As for the comScore figures, Spain’s enormous immigrant and population, both permanent and temporary (the figure of which stands between 7% and 13% depending on the season) contributes enormously, as they are those of an internet-navigable age are far more likely to belong to Facebook than Tuenti.

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Linguistic Chinese whispers – the dangers of cross-national news sharing on social media

4 Feb

Ben Miller

@ben_at_city

“If you’ve ever played ‘Chinese whispers’, what comes out the end is usually gibberish, and more or less when we speak to each other we’re playing this massive game of Chinese whispers”.

This is evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel’s summary of informative change – a phenomenon that affects conversational syntax and lexicology between speakers of different mother tongues.

The process of lexical morphology – en vrac the sharing of information – is being constantly sped up by the modern-day ease in which people from all corners of the Earth interact with each other. The main vessels that have facilitated this over the last decade all come under one collective name – social media.

In terms of journalism, then, this can prove extremely hazardous. 85% of read and reported news in the UK comes from abroad, and popular knowledge of news and current affairs is often spread by word of mouth (well, more appropriately ‘word of keyboard’ in this case!) between ordinary members of the public. And given that over 70% of Britons under the age of 25 have at least one account on a social media site, there is an enormous amount of news-related cyber gossip going on – a transfer of information that has increased 30-fold since the year 2000.

Lots of Facebook, MySpace and Bebo users have, in these days of easy travel, media globalisation and multiculturalism accumulated swathes of friends and contacts abroad. The inhabitants of all the politically free countries of the world are permitted to access each others news sources and media agency websites. This leads people to interpret news stories in other languages, which naturally has a tendecy to lead to fundamental errors in perception.

The problem with English being such a globally important language is that most of the world tries to read, listen and watch Anglophone publications and broadcasts. If a certain key fact or sentence is misunderstood, then the wrong information can spread indefinitely as the topic is discussed with others.

One ideal example is found in a Facebook message sent to me by a friend in France. On hearing the news of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement from a BBC emission, my friend’s somewhat limited English led her to believe that the couple had in fact got married, apparently in secret without anyone finding out! It is easy to imagine the confusion that might arise amongst her other Facebook contacts if she had then ‘published’ her error without being corrected.

The global rise of Twitter (which is yet to claim the social network crown from Facebook but has done a seriously good job of clawing its way up from the depths of cyber obscurity over the last 18 months), is a playing field that only accentuates the dangers of linguistic misinterpretation. The extreme informality of publishing your thoughts and a clear emphasis on news (as opposed to Facebook’s greater range of features) means that Twitter is a danger-zone potentially rife with inaccuracy. People read alien languages, they misunderstand, they perceive incorrectly, and they tweet their response. This is a danger not only for unrelated tongues, but also for the mutually intelligible. Speakers of Spanish notoriously misinterpret Portuguese, lulled into a sense of security by the two languages’ similarity and unaware of the prominence of ‘false friends’ – words or phrases that appear very similar but actually have a completely different meaning.

In short, linguistic Chinese whispers are impossible to moniter or control in the online environment. The only thing that assures that popular error doesn’t become widespread journalistic disaster is the enormous number of news sources and the benefits of modern globalisation – any newsworthy piece of information that happens anywhere on the Planet can be instantly exported (and translated) for any audience.