Some parties launched their new websites which appeared to be more interactive and provide linking with social networks.
Even the Communist Party of Armenia which mostly unites the older generation often unaware of internet opportunities registered a Facebook account.
As Armenia gets ready for the parliamentary elections, PanARMENIAN.Net decided to study the tools and opportunities provided by internet and particularly the Facebook to the participants of electoral race. For this, it addressed Armenian experts in information security, bloggers, and political scientists.
Tigran Kocharyan, blogger and expert in information security says the political forces started to use the internet, the social networks and blogs since they realized that significant part of the society, mostly the youth, uses is to get information, given their distrust towards the TV and newspapers.
“It provides different views on the subject, and people can easier shape their attitude towards the issues,” he noted.
Meanwhile, he slams activities of the political forces in Facebook.
“Parties are yet unaware of the fact that the number of Facebook users is unable to influence the general structure of voting. The social networks and blogs usually comprise people with social status and educational level somewhat higher than that of an average Armenian citizen, and these people have long since shaped their views and stances,” the blogger said.
According to Kocharyan, Facebook’s Armenian segment comprises about 300000 people, with active users accounting for no more than 50000.
“Anyway, the opinion and even votes of these 50 thousand people should not be deemed as significant, given about 2.5 mln official voters in Armenia,” he mentioned.
Kocharyan thinks that the Prosperous Armenia, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), as well as Heritage with its ally Free Democrats are much active in Facebook.
“Prosperous Armenia tries hard to prove it is number one in everything, often attempting to win various polls conducted in the social networks and different websites.
RPA chooses a more conservative stance, and the only visible person in its campaign demonstrating a non-typical attitude is the education minister Armen Ashotyan,” the blogger said.
Kocharyan has the impression that Ashotyan undertook the whole burden on RPA's PR activities, being the main target for the rival organizations and parties on the web.
Commenting on Heritage's moves in Facebook, the expert said:
“Heritage does not come up as a whole but is rather represented through individual figures. For instance, party’s member Stepan Safaryan is much popular and noticeable in Facebook. It’s worth noting that they started to use the Facebook symbols, such as the “likes” on their posters. Also, this is the first alliance to involve public sector figures, e.g. a popular blogger [Izabella Abgaryan]. This is a very interesting and uncommon move,” Kocharyan said.
All in all, the blogger is quite skeptical in assessing the potential impact of the social networks and internet on the voting outcome.
“So far, Facebook still remains the key means of prompt news and misinformation, as well as a tool for its rapid dissemination. I believe Facebook will mostly serve as a platform for reports on electoral violations and post-election developments,” Kocharyan said adding that the presidential elections in 2013 will be far more interesting in terms of using internet technologies, since the current developments in Armenia are preparation for the 2013 race.
However, Samvel Martirosyan, another Armenian renowned blogger and information security expert disagrees with Kocharyan.
“Political activity increasingly grows towards the upcoming elections, and political parties mostly use two main platforms, the Facebook and Youtube,” he said.
“The Facebook became in fact a monopoly propaganda platform. In view of the fact there are approximately 300000 Armenian Facebook users, mostly citizens with active social and political position, this is a place quite fitting for propaganda,” he told PanARMENIAN.Net reporter.
As to the use of internet and social networks by political forces, Martirosyan believes Orinats Yerkir party is the worst player here so far.
“Orinats Yerkir is now rather an object than a subject on the net. All other political forces are actively engaged in network “games”, mostly through their youth wings. One can say that the ruling RPA and Prosperous Armenia parties are most active forces on the internet.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (ANC) has formed quite large community confined to its supporters, which is rarely read by outsiders. Online representation of Free Democrats and Heritage is poor so far; Heritage however enjoys much support among independent users.
ARF Dashnaktsutyun has always had its stable group of supporters, but the party is not so active in general.
Political scientist Karen Kocharyan also highlighted the increasingly growing role of social networks in Armenia’s electoral processes.
“I believe the social networks and internet will be much more active and have greater impact on the voters during the next parliamentary elections because a generation who just lives on the net and watches almost no TV any more, will come to vote then,” he stated.
According to the political expert, internet saw rapid development in Armenia following the events of March 1, 2008 “when all mass media including the papers were blocked, and people started to seek alternative media; they found them and “got addicted”.”
When asked which of the forces running for the parliament is best using Facebook in their political campaign, Kocharyan said: “Heritage, RPA, Prosperous Armenia and ANC are using it. Orinats Yerkir is totally missing, while Dashnaktsutyun is represented through its separate members; e.g. Spartak Seyranyan is a very active user.”
Karen Kocharyan referred to RPA member, minister for education and science Armen Ashotyan and Heritage member Stepan Safaryan as successful examples of Facebook campaign.
“Ashotyan became a news-maker in Facebook. He works openly; all users can leave comments on his page wall; they publish negative materials here, but he does work openly. This is the future of political struggle worldwide and also in Armenia,” Kocharyan emphasized.
The expert also commented on the minister’s disputes with representatives of other political forces on his Facebook page saying it cannot have a negative impact on Ashotyan’s political image.
Kocharyan says an official in Armenia is inaccessible for ordinary citizens, and “people are glad to see they can write and communicate with the official figure on his Facebook wall.”