Oddly Enough

Chavez hires hundreds to help him reply on Twitter

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks to the media after signing four agreements with the government of Dominican Republic in the national palace in Santo Domingo May 5, 2010. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez may have recently discovered the joys of “tweeting,” but now he is finding that Twitter can also have drawbacks for presidents.

The Latin American country’s loquacious leftist leader launched himself onto the micro-blogging site last week to counter opponents who have increasingly been using it to pour scorn on his government.

His account, @chavezcandanga, drew nearly a quarter of a million followers -- many of them presumably curious whether the former paratrooper famed for his hours-long speeches could adapt to Twitter’s 140-character limit.

But now he has been overwhelmed with responses and has hired 200 people to help him respond to the more than 50,000 messages he says he has received in just nine days.

“This is more work for me because I can’t stop replying,” he said during a lengthy televised speech late on Friday. “So I’ve taken a decision, such is the avalanche of messages.”

Twitter has seen an explosive rise in use in Venezuela, where there are now more than 200,000 active accounts. The president’s profile is the second most-followed in the country after Globovision, a television channel that opposes him.

Chavez said on Friday that half the messages he received were from supporters who approved of his policies, while others were requests for help or complaints about faulty services.

But he said not all of his “followers” wished him well, and he had calculated that 18.4 percent of responses were hostile.

“I send jokes to some of them,” he said, prompting cheers from his audience of party officials. “That makes me laugh.”

Editing by Daniel Wallis and Vicki Allen