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Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tourist board Twitter campaign spectacularly backfires

A Twitter campaign thought up by Maldives tourism chiefs to try to boost the popularity of the country as a holiday destination has been hijacked by users tweeting abut police burtality, political coups and social unrest.

The Maldives tourism authorities urged the islands' tourism businesses to help make #SunnySideofLife a global trend, but activists used the hashtag to tell the world about the darker side of life in the Maldives.

While @myvisitmaldives boasted: "Maldives has been awarded as the Most Romantic Destination in the World #SunnySideofLife", Ali Adil tweeted: "#SunnySideOfLife: Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear lagoons filled with blood of its citizens who are fighting for democracy". And there have been hundreds of other tweets echoing Adil. "#SunnySideOfLife: A place where a chicken is not allowed to cross a road without being intimidated by Police," tweeted @gaanagaa. Others posted pictures of alleged victims of police brutality.

In fact, of the hundreds of tweets using the #SunnySideofLife tag, the majority have been negative.

Many of the tweets are aimed at the government, installed after the ousting of President Mohamed Nasheed in February. Nasheed claims he was forced to resign at gunpoint.

Amnesty International has accused the current government of using excessive force against supporters of the former president and his Maldivian Democratic party (MDP). Last month, Amnesty said it was "deeply concerned at the Maldives government's continued repression of protestors, including beatings, pepper-spraying, and arrests. Those attacked include peaceful demonstrators, members of parliament, journalists and bystanders".

The Maldives tourist authority's Twitter campaign coincides with a hearing on Thursday of the UN human rights committee, which is discussing concerns about a deterioration of human rights on the island.

Farah Faizal, from the MDP, was among those tweeting criticisms of the human rights situation in the country using the #SunnySideOfLife tag. Faizal, who resigned as the Maldives ambassador to the UK the day after Nasheed was forced out of office, said there was no co-ordinated opposition response to the tourist authority's campaign but that it had touched a nerve with ordinary citizens.

She also said the intent was not to encourage tourists to boycott the Maldives, but simply to raise awareness. "It's important that people know the truth. There's a lot of brutality going on in the Maldives," she said. "It's just for people to understand that for people of the Maldives, the luxury resorts are far removed from their lives."

The negative responses to the campaign has helped the tourism authority achieve its stated aim of making #SunnySideofLife trend. But their role went unacknowledged by the Maldives tourist minister. He tweeted: "Thank u all the Resorts, Tour Operators, Tourists & all those who love Maldives who gave positive tweets for #sunnysideoflife making a trend."

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