In the last few weeks we can see something amazing going on in the Bulgarian web - all parties, big and small, are rushing to get a bigger slice of the Internet voter pie. They were quick to realize how much further their message would reach by simply building a blog and hiring a Twitter-er. More importantly, the internet is making news in Bulgaria and that trend will continue to grow as the EP elections come closer.
Last week I wrote an analysis of how the parties are doing so far in the web. SDS/DSB were far ahead with a good website, many news about the EP elections, party member blogs and being active in the social networks. The second place was for BSP - the leading party in the ruling coalition. They have a very nice website, profiles in some social networks, but bad EU section. The third place was shared by DPS (Turkish ethnic party; also part of the ruling coalition) and GERB (the proclaimed winner of the EP elections). Unfortunately it didn’t seem like anyone is making much of an effort to attract the attention of the bloggers and their readers.
All changed since then. GERB created a wonderful blog specially for the election race and are very active with their new profiles in Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Album.bg (Bulgarian Flickr) and Svejo (Bulgarian Digg). The leader of BSP and current prime-minister - Sergey Stanishev created a personal blog, where he answers questions, writes his own thoughts and posts concurrent information about his meetings and visits. He also created a Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Greens have long been active in the net with a swarm of blogs, websites, Facebook initiatives and Youtube streams, but have intensified their activities. All other parties entered the popular social networks and are actively attracting supporters. In Twitter you can find a few dozen accounts that post news bullets, analysis and real time tweets about events related to the elections. What is even more interesting is that at least four well-known bloggers are part of the candidate lists of various parties. Two of them - Maria Nenova and Bogomil Shopov have joined the Th!nk community.
All the buzz in the web cannot stay unnoticed by the traditional media, although it took them a while to wrap their minds around it and pitch in. Now several newspapers have Twitter accounts where they post their articles automatically. There were numerous of articles and TV reportages about what is going on in the web and how it changes the race for the EP. This week the focus is on the prime minister’s blog, but before that everyone talked about another trend - the dirty PR in the web and more notably the website boykostov.org.
Allegedly this website is created by a virtually unknown party with its campaign subsidies. The website depicts the leader of GERB Boyko Borisov and the leader of DSB Ivan Kostov and claims that if we vote for Boyko (as many will), Kostov will win. Kostov is demonised by the left and parts of the right as being totalitarian, when it comes to his own party. Many voters, who favor GERB, also dislike Kostov, so the goal of that “black campaign” was clearly to steal their vote. This website may have stayed unnoticed, if it wasn’t for the huge advertising effort that was put in it. Experts estimate that about 150.000 € were spent for Google Ads, billboards and TV spots. Detailed investigations by several blogger, myself included, revealed that the domain was originally registered by the “Internet expert” adviser of the prime minister, who is also a board member of the company that builds the information system for both the EP and bulgarian parialment elections. As a whole, the “black” campaign had just the opposite effect as was intended and BSP lost more than 2% of their ratings.
This is not the first and will not be the last such “black campaign” against GERB. Although there is no official confirmation on behalf of BSP and the prime minister that they are behind this, the media have reported it as a fact. Another such campaign is the attempt of DPS to persuade the Turkish and Roma minorities that GERB will strip them of their rights and even bring genocide.
An interesting aspect of all this is that no matter who issues those ads and websites, it is all considered “election campaign material”. By the law, on such material it should be stated: “Buying and selling votes is illegal”. On none of the videos and brochures of boykostov.org or BSP you could find such a message, making them illegal. Those cases, as well as the financing of the campaigns, should normally be investigated, but the police stays silent. Many consider this inactivity as nearly illegal, but as the state is completely in the hands of BSP and DPS, the public can do nothing else, but to blog, protest and ultimately - vote. That we will do.