#AlertaVenezuela is leading the way in identifying, exposing, and explaining disinformation within the context of one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest crises in recent history, where the fight for control of the information space will continue to pose a challenge for the region.
Pro-Maduro accounts boosted campaign discrediting Guaidó’s “people’s consultation” on Twitter
Pro-Maduro accounts used the hashtag #FiltraronLaConsulta (“They leaked the people’s consultation”) to claim falsely that the “people’s consultation,” a referendum organized by Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by over 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president, was insecure and hackers leaked voters’ identification data. Among the Twitter accounts posting the hashtag was @RCENI24, the account for Radio Centroamérica Internacional, a news aggregator website registered in Venezuela and reporting on Central America.
AP reported that Guaidó claimed 6.5 million Venezuelans voted between December 7 and December 12 in the people’s consultation to oust Maduro from power as well as to demand fair presidential and legislative elections. At the time of writing, Guaidó did not reveal the number of affirmative or negative answers to the consultation, and opposition election experts quoted by AP and Voice of America said that Guaidó’s figures were questionable.
Guaidó’s survey started the day after Maduro’s party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (the United Social Party of Venezuela, or PSUV), declared victory in regime-controlled congressional elections, which amassed over 6.2 million votes.
Between December 10 and December 11, #FiltraronLaConsulta trended on Twitter pushed by pro-Maduro accounts. The first account to use the hashtag on Twitter belonged to pro-Maduro blog Lechuguinos. In the initial tweet containing the hashtag, Lechuguinos shared a link to its website, which allegedly revealed the identification number and the name of supposed voters of the people’s consultation.
On December 11, independent fact-checking website Cazadores de Fake News revealed that the campaign promoting #FiltraronLaConsulta originated on Instagram. Cazadores de Fake News said that the 10 Instagram accounts that started the campaign previously posted false and misleading content against the opposition to the Maduro regime.
According to a search using Meltwater Explore, 1,751 accounts used the hashtag on 2,516 tweets. Among those accounts was @RCENI24, which posted #FiltraronLaConsulta 19 times. All its posts used #FiltraronLaConsulta alongside other hashtags supporting Maduro as well as shared links to its articles, none of them related to the people’s consultation. Twitter considers “tweeting with excessive, unrelated hashtags in a single Tweet or across multiple Tweets” a spammy activity that violates its rules and policies.
Radio Centroamérica Internacional describes itself on its website as a “multimedia project” that aims “to consolidate an alternative way of communication that renounces intra-regional conventions.” On its homepage, the website has sections focused not only on Central America but also on Venezuela. According to a search using website monitoring tool DNSlytics, Radio Centroamérica Internacional was registered in Venezuela’s state of Nueva Esparta on November 14, 2016, under the name Héctor Figuera Bruzual.
A search on LinkedIn returned a profile named “Héctor Figuera” connected to Radio Centroamérica Internacional and based in Panama.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On December 11, Bloomberg published an article titled, “Maduro is blocking UN food aid into crisis-ravaged Venezuela.” The article reported that the agreement to allow the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme to bring aid into Venezuela “is stalled as President Nicolas Maduro insists on controlling distribution.” According to Bloomberg, the UN food agency and the Maduro regime have been negotiating the deal for eight months, and Maduro’s signature is pending. Three people with direct knowledge of the talks told Bloomberg that, while the World Food Programme requires non-political distribution, Maduro wants regime-controlled networks involved, including national militias. The article reported that the number of undernourished Venezuelans “tripled to 9 million from 2017 to 2019.” The piece also suggested that the agreement’s “collapse is another blow to the international community’s attempt to respond to the country’s humanitarian crisis.”
In Venezuela on December 11, independent website TalCual published an article titled, “‘Cuando van por ti’, primer capítulo de la serie documental la república que tortura” (“‘When they are chasing you,’ the first chapter of the series ‘The republic that tortures’”). TalCual announced the first of six chapters of an animated series that “reveals a pattern” of human rights violations in Venezuela. The piece contained a YouTube video of the first chapter, which chronicles the stories of demonstrators, political prisoners, and other victims of torture, as well as their relatives. Tal Cual’s readout of a report by Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Provea showed that 852 people were victims of torture in 2019. The article also quoted Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who reported on September 25, 2020, that victims had been tortured at unofficial and secret sites, as well as in the offices of Maduro’s security forces, including the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (also known in Spanish by its acronym SEBIN).
On Social Media
Pro-Maduro accounts pushed the hashtag #IndigenasPaLaAsamblea (“Indigenous for National Assembly”) to trend on Twitter between December 9 and December 10. The accounts described how a push for the election of regime-favored indigenous representatives to the National Assembly during the regime-controlled December 9 elections was “successful.” Maduro’s National Electoral Council (also known in Spanish by its acronym CNE) instituted changes in August 2020 to the regulations around indigenous elections, moving from a direct, universal, and secret vote to public assemblies and a show-of-hands vote. According to Spanish news outlet El País, Maduro “threw away” constitutional guarantees modifying the regulations of the indigenous elections four months before the elections, but Venezuelan law stipulates that there should be no such modifications to the process in the six months prior to the elections.
En el nuevo ciclo que inicia el próximo 5 de enero con la instalación de la AN, las diputadas y diputados del GPP electos, nos comprometemos con nuestro pueblo a trabajar por la recuperación económica y fortalecer el diálogo nacional.”
“In the new period that begins with the installation of the National Assembly on January 5, the elected GPP [Maduro’s coalition Gran Polo Patriótico] representatives commit ourselves with our people to work for the economic recovery and strengthen national dialogue.”
– Cilia Flores, PSUV’s now representative-elect and Maduro’s wife, on Twitteron December 12, 2020.
Yo sé que nosotros hemos transitado un larguísimo camino hacia la libertad, que todavía lamentablemente no hemos llegado a la conquista definitiva de la libertad. Pero lo que no podemos es redirnos. No podemos simplemente tirar la toalla y dejar de caminar hacia la libertad.”
“I know that we have traveled a very long road to freedom, that unfortunately, we have not yet reached the definitive conquest of freedom. But what we cannot do is to give up. We cannot simply throw in the towel and stop walking towards freedom.”
– Leopoldo López, Guaidó’s political mentor, promoting the people’s consultation to Colombian news outlet El Tiempo on December 11.
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