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Social Media Plays Major Role In Catalan Referendum

If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law.”- Frans Timmermans, the vice president of the European Commission

What is going on in Spain?

If you follow us on Instagram you will know that I have become somewhat intrigued/fascinated by the state of affairs in Spain at the moment. For someone who is only vaguely familiar with Spanish political history, the proud heritage of the Catalonian people and the Puigdemont party, I think it’s very important we tune in to what's happening. Not only to examine a state that is navigating through a very tumultuous time but also examining the way groups in Catalonia organised such an extensive operation which saw them carry out a referendum on Oct 1st in the first place.

Catalonia is a wealthy region in Spain's northeast. One of 17 autonomous provinces, it has its own regional government which already has considerable powers over health care, education and tax collection. But it pays tax to Madrid, and pro-independence politicians argue that complex mechanisms for redistributing tax revenue are unfair on wealthier areas.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has fought to establish an independent Catalan state since taking office last January and called the referendum in June. Catalan officials say people voted overwhelmingly for secession in the Oct. 1 referendum, which had been declared illegal by the government. Some 900 people were injured on polling day when police fired rubber bullets and stormed crowds with truncheons to disrupt the voting.

Something that hasn’t been remarked about a whole pile is the stealthy operation the pro-independence groups ran to carry out a vote deemed illegal. A recent Buzzfeed article interviewed a number of Spanish students who were at the forefront of the push to vote. Marta Rosique was one such student who details their time in the University of Barcelona which they used as a hub to hide from the Civil Guard who were attempting to squash any vote.

Social media played its part in abundance as students connected chat applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal to communicate their plans.This all helped them stay one step ahead of Spanish police activity as they constantly moved polling locations while simultaneously coordinating with an assembly of local firefighters.

Rosique attributes the use of social media channels to the advice they received from none other than Julian Assange.

“We connected online with Julian Assange and Wikileaks and he told us some of the apps we could use”.

How it worked

Each polling station had its own WhatsApp group. These groups would then connect with student activists and report back to the information center at the University of Barcelona. At the beginning of the day, this worked well, but Rosique said that as voting got underway, many of the groups were compromised by Spanish nationalist trolls.

“There were a lot of WhatsApp groups created, but for example, in the WhatsApp group of my polling station, some people for the unity of Spain entered into the group and they started sending messages and changing the name of the WhatsApp group and started disrupting it,” she said.

What next?

The situation has developed further since the vote on Oct 1st with threats reigning down on Puigdemont’s leadership if Catalonia goes ahead with their declaration of independence. Spain’s Prime minister has opened the way for Madrid to use a constitutional “nuclear option” to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy, demanding that the regional government makes clear whether it considers itself independent.

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mariano Rajoy took a first step toward triggering Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which would give Madrid previously unused powers to take control of Catalonia’s regional government. The Catalan leader on Tuesday night stepped back from making a full declaration of immediate independence, calling for more dialogue with Spain to peacefully resolve the matter.

His speech to the Catalan parliament was ambiguous though, at one point Puigdemont appeared to make a declaration of independence, saying he now assumed the “mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic”. This was followed by a proposed suspension of independence for a “few weeks”.

As of yet, the future of Catalonia is unclear, we simply have to wait for the next development. Keep up to date with Ecanvasser as we follow the story here.

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