Argentina: the dispute over historical memory in X

8 minutes
Argentina: the dispute over historical memory in X
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"For a complete memory, for truth and justice", was the slogan that Javier Milei published on X -Twitter- last March 24, on the occasion of the National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice, where the victims of the last military dictatorship in Argentina are traditionally commemorated. His message was accompanied by a video broadcast by the Casa Rosada account, in which some of the foundations on which, for four decades, the narrative of historical memory has been built in that country are precisely controverted. 

In three voices - those of journalist Juan Bautista "Tata" Yofre; Maria Fernanda Viola, daughter of a captain killed by an insurgent group; and former guerrilla Luis Labraña - the short documentary insinuates that the figure of 30,000 disappeared, used as an estimate of the victims of this crime during the dictatorship, was motivated by economic interests. In addition, one of the interveners refers to the acts of the military forces during those years as "excesses". At the end, the piece renames the date as the "Day of Memory for Truth and Complete Justice". 

The video gathers some of the positions that both Milei and vice-president Victoria Villarruel have publicly assumed. For Martín Becerra, Conicet researcher and director of the Center for Research on Cultural Industries, Communication Policies and Civic Space -ICEP-, the ideas of "complete truth" or "complete memory" invoked by the government are the antithesis of the Argentine historical memory process. "The slogan oscillates between denialism of the dictatorship's crimes and their vindication," he assures.

Expressions of this type are not new, since, as Becerra points out, they have been outlined by the high commanders of the last military dictatorship since they were tried in the 1980s. "However, it is novel that a president of the constitutional period explicitly vindicates dictatorial violence. Consequently, the Argentine government enables the exercise of violence contrary to the basic consensus on the value of life and constitutional guarantees". 

The piece, which has accumulated more than eight million views on X - and hundreds of thousands more on YouTube and Facebook - is just a sample of the narratives that circulated that day. A look at the conversations on X around this event reveals posts questioning the figures on the number of disappeared and attacking human rights organizations.

A potpourri of hate speech and harassment‍.

In one of these conversations, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo - an association that emerged during the dictatorship to claim for their disappeared relatives - are repeatedly singled out as "mothers or grandmothers of terrorists", or else they are directly labeled as terrorists.

The post with the highest interaction in one of the conversations - a metric that includes the number of replies, replies and likes - accuses the organization as terrorist for raising a Palestinian flag during the marches held that day: "Las Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo march with Palestinian flags. Terrorists understand each other". Others, sharing different photos of the protests, follow the same line: "always on the side of the terrorists," says one account with a check mark - a sign of being a subscriber to X's premium service - while yet another claims that the flag represents Hamas. 

Publication with the most interaction in the conversation.

The use of flags during the march, as well as the online conversations that accompany it, is not only the echo of an international issue that lands on the internal agenda of a country, but of the position of Javier Milei, who has repeatedly expressed his support for Israel in the face of the war in Gaza. Far from calling for a peaceful solution to this scenario, the president's discourse has promoted aggressive measures, including the announcement to move the Argentine embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, "taken as a provocation by the Arab world", as journalist Raúl Kollmann pointed out a few months ago.

This type of publication is in tension with X's content rules. The policy against hate speech, for example, prohibits stigmatizing a group of people on the basis of criteria such as religion or nationality, as would be occurring in these publications by linking the Palestinian population with terrorism or by raising the equivalence of the country with that of a terrorist group such as Hamas. 

As for stigmatization and direct attacks on mothers and grandmothers, the rules to protect them from this type of discourse are much less clear. As in other social networks, X establishes a number of categories - such as ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity - to prohibit attacks against certain individuals or groups. While the company includes age and gender as part of these criteria, and while the organization is indeed composed mainly of older women, the application of the rules in this case is not so clear, and could rather underline the vulnerability in digital spaces of groups dedicated to the defense of human rights. 

Denial of State Terrorism‍

The observation also shows efforts to push a message that minimizes the number of victims of the dictatorship or justifies the deaths and disappearances. On March 24, 7,593 posts on X used the hashtags #NoFueron30000 and #NoFueronInocentes to question the numbers of state terrorism in Argentina.

Posts between March 10 and April 7 that used in X the hashtags #NoFueronInocentes and #NoFueron30mil or #NoFueron30000. Source: Meltwater

This narrative brings up violent events perpetrated by guerrilla organizations such as Montoneros or the People's Revolutionary Army. In this way, all victims of disappearance - including students, trade unionists, journalists, opponents or religious leaders - are indiscriminately associated as terrorists and the crimes committed by the military against them are directly or indirectly defended. "They called themselves 'young idealists,' we call them murderers," reads the post with the most interactions from this conversation. "They ate her for going around doing evil things," another message says. 

Publication with the tags #NoFueronInocentes and #NoFueron30000 with the highest interaction in the sample.

These types of posts could be in violation of several of X's content standards. For one, the abuse and harassment policy prohibits denying events with mass victims, when they are fact-checked and when the content is shared with an abusive context, which includes ensuring that the victims are fake, as indeed is the case with some of the posts that used these tags. 

Although they are intended to be applied globally, sometimes the content rules of X, like those of other social networks, are designed to respond to specific situations. In the case of this policy, denial of the Jewish Holocaust or school shootings are cited as examples. However, its wording may leave gaps or gray areas in other contexts that have their own complexity, as is the case of discussions about events of violence that occurred during military dictatorships or internal armed conflicts, phenomena especially close to Latin American countries. 

Although the publications may be in breach of X's rules, it is unlikely that the company will act on them, considering that since its acquisition by Elon Musk, a philosophy of less moderation has prevailed. In any case, the question arises as to the effect that enforcement could have in a scenario as tense as the one in Argentina.

Calls for intervention have been outlined directly by human rights organizations. Last year, Estela de Carlotto, president of the association Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, sent a letter to Google to demand that action be taken against denialism in Argentina in the same way it has been done in countries such as Germany. "We understand that freedom of expression is a fundamental principle, but we believe that there is an ethical responsibility in the hosting, dissemination and algorithmic recommendation of information, especially when it comes to facts as sensitive as the last dictatorship in Argentina," the document states

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