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The Decline of Free Press in El Salvador and the Rise of Pro-Government Social Media Influencers

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Douglas Guzmán’s TikTok feed used to be filled with workout routines and videos showcasing his favorite parts of his country. However, that changed when El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele faced criticism for violating human rights and attempting an unconstitutional bid for re-election. In response, Guzmán’s feed became plastered with videos praising Bukele and countering negative press from independent media.

Guzmán is just one example of an expanding network of social media influencers aligned with Bukele’s government. As Bukele cracks down on the press, his administration has embraced these influencers, creating an echo chamber of pro-Bukele content. This tactic mirrors the playbook of 21st-century autocrats, who use social media to control the narrative and shape public opinion.

Bukele’s government has constructed a sophisticated communications machine, which includes restricting access to information that contradicts official messaging and using tech-savvy contractors to create fake social media accounts. These influencers, who earn substantial sums of money, churn out hours of pro-Bukele content filled with false or misleading information.

The government’s strategy has garnered support from domestic and international audiences, with Bukele maintaining high approval ratings. This model of utilizing social media to strengthen political power is not unique to El Salvador, as autocrats in countries like Russia and Uganda have adopted similar tactics.

As El Salvador’s government opens its doors to social media personalities, the influx of content serves as a tool to publicize government initiatives while silencing critical voices. The increasingly hostile tone of these influencers poses a threat to press freedoms and puts journalists reporting on the government at risk of harassment and attacks.

El Salvador serves as a warning to other leaders in the region who may seek to mimic Bukele’s approach. The rise of pro-government social media influencers signifies a decline in free press and the consolidation of power through information control.

Unique Perspective: The rise of pro-government social media influencers in El Salvador highlights the challenges faced by traditional media outlets in the digital age. As more individuals turn to social media for news and information, there is a growing risk of misinformation and propaganda taking hold. It is crucial for societies to uphold the principles of a free press and promote media literacy to ensure that accurate and unbiased information reaches the public.

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