Last summer, Erik Martin, the general manager of the link-sharing site Reddit, whose job requires him to oversee online conversations about everything from My Little Pony to Islamic State propaganda, noticed something strange. A Spanish political party that he’d never heard of was using the Web site to organize. “We’ve never seen anyone use Reddit as an organizing tool, not like this,” he said. The party, called Podemos (We Can), was only a few months old at the time, but it had created a subreddit—in effect, a party home page hosted by Reddit—with more than two thousand subscribers and significant traffic. About two hundred people were visiting the page at any given time, and there were a million page views in the month of July alone. “This was all in a market”—in southern Europe—”where Reddit is not even that popular,” Martin said. On the party’s page, an array of filters directs users to caches of videos, proposals, debate topics, and news. There are “digital assemblies” (a sort of virtual plebiscite), “Ask Podemos” (question-and-answer sessions with party leaders), and “Podemos Plaza” (a freewheeling discussion via message board). The other day, one user linked to a grim news item meant to spawn a local protest initiative: the municipal government of Madrid had dedicated a plaza to Margaret Thatcher. When Martin and I spoke over the summer, he admitted that he didn’t know much about Podemos: Was it a serious party with serious prospects or was it a group of idealistic interlopers? That question has been on the lips of Spaniards for months.
Elections for the European Parliament are generally a somnolent affair—low on turnout, high on cynicism, slim on newsworthiness—but last May Podemos upended the political landscape. Just six months old, the party won 1.5 million votes, or eight per cent of the over-all vote count, and gained five seats in the European Parliament. Podemos’s rise drew votes away from the mainstream Socialists, which meant that, for the first time in three decades, the two major parties—the left-of-center Socialists and right-of-center Partido Popular—could not cover a majority of voters between them.
Podemos promoted itself as a populist alternative, using slogans that drew on a familiar international vocabulary with overtones of Occupy and of the European anti-austerity movement: “We Are the 99%”; “The Debt Is Illegitimate”; “The Two-Party System Is a Thing of the Past.” Podemos’s leader and figurehead, a political-science professor named Pablo Iglesias, told the press, from the steps of the European Parliament: “All that’s left in Europe is a political élite that kneels before the financial powers … Some Europeans don’t want to be colonies of the Troika.” Recent austerity measures are largely the Troika’s doing, and unemployment has spiked in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. This has made national politics seem like a futile affair, with local politicians answerable to Berlin and Brussels on economic policy. The sworn mission of Podemos is to restore politics to the people. “We propose a grassroots politics—that is, to do away with the establishment parties and, from there, put in motion a method,” Iglesias has said.
For Podemos, the method is the message. If you scroll through the party’s Reddit page or listen to its spokesmen on the radio, you’ll get a litany of fair-minded gripes about austerity and political corruption and malfeasance in the banking sector. What you won’t hear, at least not yet, is a specific policy agenda. Podemos’s success at the ballot box depends on keeping party pronouncements flexible and all encompassing in the run-up to next year’s elections. (Some recent polls show Podemos as the third-most-popular party in Spain.)
Full Article: In Spain, Politics via Reddit – The New Yorker.