Greece: Social networks in times of crisis

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On April 23, 2010, when the Prime Minister of Greece with the port of the island Kastellorizo as his background announced the official call from Greece to the IMF, three things happened. First, the Greeks’ bubble was burst. A few months before, they had voted by an overwhelming percentage for a government whose main slogan was « there is money available. » Second, captivated by the beauty of the port of Kastellorizo and from the dazzling blue sea behind the sad face of Papandreou, all potential tourists, European and American, booked tickets for a vacation in Greece. Third, social networks across the country were blocked for hours. No, it was not a result of a conspiracy of the Greek political scene in order to cut off communication between its citizens, officially bankrupt; rather, social networking sites simply went on fire. Traffic was so heavy that the central servers put their hands up and nearly the whole system crashed.

The explosion of social networks at the beginning of the decade could not leave Greece unaffected. Thus under more… Mediterranean rhythms, social media has gradually won over the Greek youth, who in turn passed the trend on to the rest. According to research done by MRB Hellas, between 2008 and 2010 was there an increase of users of social networks of about 350%. Today, 91.7% of active population has an account on at least one social network, with youth as the majority (72% facebook, 36% you tube, 20% twitter). Of those who have an account, approximately 25% spend about 1-2 hours per day online and 23% spend about 2-4 hours online each day.

According to all the familiar clichés, cultivated over many years by « Greece’s heavy industry », tourism, « the Greeks are people who are hyper-social and love having fun, glamour, self-promotion, and the politicization of all matters ». Although cliché, where there is smoke, there is fire. What are the Greeks doing then, spending so many hours on the networks?

a) They socialize, of course; they spend 57% of their time on social networks doing just that. They stay in touch with friends and acquaintances that they do not see often. They exchange comments and they post photos, preferably in cheerful and artistic poses.

They upload videos and songs- sometimes they change them, humorous or not. The most famous example of this is the extreme success of the video « To krasaki tou Tsou » (The wine of Tsu), where a poor Japanese song is « transcribed » in Greek, with words of similar sonority and the result is hilarious. Another favorite subject, as everywhere in the world, is Bruno Ganz as Hitler in « Downfall. » Subtitles vary, but the dictator always seems to be angry: sometimes because of the economic crisis, sometimes because of the new video of a famous Greek porn star and sometimes because of the arbitration in a match of Panathinaikos.

So, they upload videos and songs. And they download, too. Official statistics of those who have illegally downloaded videos or songs do not exist, but let’s just say that when with a court order the most popular greek torrent, « », was closed down, the protest group on facebook gathered over 5,000 members within days.

flitWhen they are not doing something illegal, Greeks flirt online. The time that the famous womanizers searched beaches for their prey, innocent girls and young tourists (preferably blonde), has died. Long live the Internet flirting. According, Greece and particularly Athens, is the leading country of internet (and other forms of) flirting; 33% of users admit they have already achieved some sort of sexual relation after intense Internet flirting. A year ago, the first on-line marriage prosposal through facebook, gathered 10.000 « likes » in days and helped a young man, Alexandros, to propose officially to his girlfriend, Aurelie. The cartoon movie of their love story became one of the most popular videos on facebook in Greece.

b) The second most important activity of the Greeks in social networks, with 30%, is to learn about and comment on political issues and current affairs. There they are again: clichés. The country that invented democracy, etc.


As far as authority figures are concerned, politicians have begun to overcome their fear of social networking. The Prime Minister himself, self-proclaimed fan of social networks, has been using them for a while. On November 5, 2010 he gave his first online interview on Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #GreekPmLive). Despite the example of the “high-tech prime minister”, the use of social media does not appear to be widespread among other members of the Greek political scene, as only about 20% have a twitter account and a little more than that have a facebook account.

As far as the governed are concerned, things are different. Looking back, the first political act that was organized through the net took place on June 1st, 2007. Almost all bloggers throughout the country posted on their blogs the same text of protest following the death of a blogger named Amalia Kalyvinou. The girl was suffering for many years from undiagnosed cancer and on her blog she had been denouncing corrupt practices in big hospitals in the country and had criticized the lack of social responsibility. The subject quickly moved from the blogosphere to the traditional media and was even brought to the Parliament.

riots 2008

The first major explosion of the use of social media for political purposes, however, took place in December of 2008. An outburst of the worst riots that Athens had ever seen occurred after the killing of a 16-years-old student by a police officer, who was later sentenced to life imprisonment. It was as if all political forces, regardless of their alignment, had suddenly understood the power of the Internet. The demonstrations were organized on facebook, they were live tweeted on Twitter and they were shared with the world on YouTube. Endless articles, videos, comments and pictures flooded the networks.

The second major social media explosion happened after the call from Greece to the IMF. For the first time, the landscape of information began to change. Many Greek citizens, now anchored in social networks, declared that they had begun to lose confidence in traditional media, seeing them as « motivated by interests that led to the current economic situation. » The use of the internet as a source of information can be seen by the fact that 74% of social network users say that while watching the news on television, they tend to use the internet to discuss what they have heard and seek for more information. Of course information via the net is not only sought out through social networks, but also on sites of traditional media. The news on television continues to hold the primacy, but online information is catching up, with only eight percentage-points of difference. Consequently, popular bloggers, like « Pitsirikos« , have become powerful opinion leaders. About 53% of social networks users have already done some sort of comment on the « Memorandum » of IMF.

Social networks, however, not only provide a platform for commentary on the crisis, but they also serve to help the organization of actions. The most impressive example is the documentary « Debtocracy » by journalists Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi, which was financed entirely by volunteers (crowd funding), following the creators’ online request for support for an independent production about the causes of the crisis and possible solutions. The request was widely circulated in the networks, and in ten days, the budget for its production was collected. After the documentary was posted online, it had over 500,000 views in only two days and was purchased by a major newspaper that offered it on DVD with its weekend edition. As a result, a petition for the formation of an independent committee, which will clarify the exact amount of the debt, the conditions in which it has been created and the percentage that is probably illegal (odious debt), is present in all social networks.

Finally, at the time this article is published, for about a week now, more than 100,000 people gather each evening, inspired by the corresponding movement of « indignation » in Spain in the central square of Athens (a city with a population of approximately 4 million) to protest to the current situation in the country. The same rendezvous occur among citizens of Thessaloniki, Patras, and other large cities. While this protest of unprecedented volume was organized only through social networks, in only a day’s time, people of all ages and political determination were gathered in the central squares. The open general meeting that decides, identifies, organizes people’s requests is broadcasted live every night on the Internet. Commentaries, judgments, and criticisms widely circulate on the net (hashtags #greekrevolution #25m #syntagma).  There are also some humorous reactions, such as, “Give a moutza to the 300 with one click.” On facebook. 300 is the number of the Greek parliament members and a “mountza” is an insulting Greek gesture with all fingers of one hand open! So far, this is the most massive, peaceful demonstration organized only through social networks in Greece, without the participation of political formations and parties.

c) Business activity in social media is ironically at a very low level. It appears that business investment on the networks followed the path of general investment in Greece: still stagnant, if not on a downturn. Greek companies are wary of the Internet and do not seem willing to trust it. Only a third of companies have some presence in social networks. It is a rapidly growing market, however, and it is often a pioneer, despite the small market of 12 million Greeks (almost the population of Paris).

matheclickOn 12/01/2010 the company OPAP launched, for the first time worldwide, an “online game show” through Facebook, “MATHE CLICK”  (lean to “click”) hosted by the famous Greek comedian George Mitsikostas. To participate, one must apply on OPAP’s facebook page and wait until 10 players are selected at random. On a specific day and time, they sit in front of their screens and answer questions live, as done in a game show, but from home, via facebook. Other facebook users can watch it live, but cannot participate. This initiative was a huge success, with over 45,000 requests for each game and more than 10,305,000 post views. It continues today, and applications with humorous phrases of the presenter are widely circulating on the Internet.

The National Bank of Greece, taking advantage of the fact that computer illiteracy is higher in seniors, has created the impressive website On the site, users post videos or short stories based on a funny experience between a senior and computers, and the best post win prizes. At the same time, the site establishes a national network of volunteers for the introduction of the elderly in the magical world of the Internet. The website and its applications have been a resounding success; within the first 15 days, it had about 150,000 visits and over 250 participants in the volunteer network.

Technology, crisis, sociability: the 3 essential ingredients for the development of social networks in Greece. Delayed in the level of business activity, pioneer in political criticism, passionate about personal promotion and social life, Greece seems to be dynamically invading the field of social media. But as they say in my village, if “predictions for the future of the economy make astrology sound credible”, predictions about the future of social networks certainly seem to upgrade astrology to an academic science.

The figures were presented  in the « Social Media Conference » on 22 March 2011 in Athens. Dimitris A. Mavros, research conducted by MRB Hellas, « 360 ˚ Impact of social media. » Eric Parks, Leo Burnett, Stavros Petroulas, « Added Value: How to turn things on their head on the Web » for National Bank of Greece.