TikTok, memes and Musk: Argentina election goes viral

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STORY: Javier Milei has shot to the top of the polls in Argentina's presidential election race, with the help of social media, influencers, and maybe even Elon Musk.

The economist and former TV pundit's bitingly critical diatribes and theatrical rallies are easily edited into viral soundbites...

Which are then spread across social media, from TikTok to Instagram and YouTube.

Taking a page from the playbooks of former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonoro, Milei has waged a guerilla-style campaign online against his more established political rivals.

His message is resonating with voters angry at triple-digit inflation, rising poverty and a looming recession.

Argentine influencer Eugenia Rolon says it's politics for the digital age.

"What interests me is social media. It is the new way of doing politics and an excellent tool for communicating proposals before the presidency, and proposals once you are in office."

Argentinians voted in a primary election in August, pushing Milei into first place in a huge shake-up to the race.

That put him ahead of current economy minister Sergio Massa and conservative ex-security minister Patricia Bullrich.

An expert in data and social media analytics, Diego Corbalan says Milei's message is getting through.

"Today, Milei's agenda is being discussed. Sergio Massa and Patricia Bullrich's agendas are discussed sporadically. If you look at metrics of interactions like mentions, views and engagement, Milei is always setting the agenda."

Milei has also gained high-profile online fans like controversial U.S. pundit Tucker Carlson and Bolsonaro.

Elon Musk has even weighed in, making an apparent reference to Milei's plan for rapid cuts to spending.

But his success online has also stirred criticism from opposition supporters who say Milei's libertarian ideas are radical, impossible to implement or even dangerous.

Milei's social media advisor Fernando Cerimedo told Reuters that support for Milei online was organic, downplaying previous comments he made to local media that AI-powered trolls were used to push social media support.

Opinion polls show Milei likely coming first in the October 22 vote, though confidence in the forecasts is low after they failed to predict the primary race.