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#novullpagar: Algorithms or censorship?

Today thousands of Catalan car drivers drove up to the toll gates and said "No vull pagar": I don't want to pay. Under the watchful eyes of the police (who didn't have to intervene) motorway employees had to get out of their cabins to take note of the number plate before letting the driver through. 

The #novullpagar initiative was the brainchild of Josep Casadellà (@jcasadella57). After reading Josep's tweet (in which he explained that he refused to pay tolls on Catalan roads any more), @jordiTorresb started up the Plataforma No Vull Pagar. Thanks to twitter, @a2bcat volunteered to design a website, www.novullpagar.cat. A Facebook page soon followed.

The whole campaign - initially for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of volunteers to arrive at toll gates in 14 different places, at midday on May 1st 2012 - is base on the uncontestable fact that Catalonia, one of the wealthiest parts of Spain, is being leeched of its wealth and welfare, but gross, prolonged over taxation and under investment by the Spanish government in Catalonia. Roads for which Catalans have to pay a toll (often when there is no equivalent, quality freeway covering the same route), are freeways in most of the rest of Spain. The main motorways in Catalonia were built 40 years ago, and have been fully amortised several times over. 

So leading up to the midday happening today, the #novullpagar hashtag bombarded the local twitter world. www.toowit.com listed the "Top hashtags in all countries for the last 6 hours", putting #novullpagar in 7th place in the world at its peak!

Cars queued in over a dozen places, including toll gates in the Valencian region and Majorca. The motorway ownser, Abertis, said that up to 2 pm 2500 drivers had refused to pay.

Yet the campaign 
made no impact on the TT lists of Spain or even Barcelona. At the last minute, in an desperate attempt to attain TT status, #novullpagar1M was launched, but likewise did not appear as a trending topic in Barcelona (far less in Spain) at any time, despite a rate of up to ten tweets a minute, around midday (which was when the coordinated popular initiative hit the tolls right across Catalonia, and in other parts of the "Països Catalans").

Compare the sources in the evening (9 pm local time): Twitter Inc. gave this listing:

At the same time twit.cat, which calculates its statistics on the basis of 22,577 signed-in Catalan twitter-users, had #novullpagar in front, with #novullpagar1M in 4th place and #novullpagaraEspanya in 5th place.

Strangely enough, at this time the 
www.toowit.com website could not be accessed: it gave the following message: "Error: Server Error. The server encountered an error and could not complete your request. If the problem persists, please report your problem and mention this error message and the query that caused it."

At the same time, Trendmap shows the hashtag alive and kicking,  ahead of others in the regions. Here is data for the Barcelona district:

Questions are being asked by many Catalans, as to why neither #novullpagar nor #novullpagar1M reached TT status, when far more tweets included these hashtags than other expressions that are among the trending topics ( such as "Girona Nord", one of the most "popular" toll gates for the No Vull Pagar action today ). Can algorithms have such perverse effects, or is it a case of censorship? Let us hope time will tell.

This is just one more campaign organised in the build-up towards a referendum for Catalan independence, for which over 40% of the population say they would vote for (versus little more than 20% who say they would vote against it). The combination of solid economic reasons and strong sentimental support for freedom are making a growing impact on public opinion.

Other posts in English: 
Baròmetre de l'ús del català a Internet