#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.
YouTube channel used arrival of Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V to spread false claims about the Maduro regime
Two videos of Panamanian YouTube channel Parecen Noticias Extra appeared among the most viewed after Nicolás Maduro announced on February 9, 2021, that 100,000 doses of Sputnik V would arrive in Venezuela the following week. Both videos used unsubstantiated claims targeting the Maduro regime but amassed more views than other videos of YouTube channels belonging to media outlets and pro-Maduro assets.
On October 2, 2020, Venezuela became the first Latin American country to receive the vaccine for clinical trials, with 2,000 doses. During his announcement on February 9, Maduro described that the mass vaccination campaign would prioritize healthcare workers, “the most vulnerable people,” teachers, and members of the Somos Venezuela movement, “a governmental movement that distributes aid to victims of the imperialist blockade,” headed by Maduro’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez. The Sputnik V doses arrived in the country on February 13.
On February 10, the day after Maduro’s announcement, YouTube channel Parecen Noticias Extra posted its first video claiming that, in Venezuela, a “military revolt” will occur due to the Russian vaccine would not arrive for another four years.
In the second video, posted on February 13, the presenter suggested that those who belong to “Maduro’s political circle” would be the first vaccinated. The presenter did not mention the members of Somos Venezuela that Maduro mentioned in his announcement and, instead, mentioned Rodríguez and Maduro’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza. Moreover, the video did not show evidence on the supposed plan to vaccinate “Maduro’s political circle,” the presenter only made the connection because Rodríguez and Arreaza greeted the arrival of the shipment in person on February 13.
An analysis of YouTube videos mentioning the vaccine in connection with Venezuela or Maduro and posted between February 9 and February 15 using social media listening tool BuzzSumo showed that Parecen Noticias Extra posted the first and the third most viewed videos in Venezuela. Maduro-funded television channel Telesur posted the second most viewed video, in which Kremlin and Maduro officials announced the arrival of the Sputnik V shipment during a press conference on February 13.
Parecen Noticias Extra has 1.56 million subscribers and 471 billion views, according to a query using social media analysis tool Social Blade. Parecen Noticias Extra was created on December 11, 2013, and describes itself as a channel posting previous “entertainment sketches that were aired in the past on Panamanian television stations.” However, it says that currently it “analyzes issues from all over the world,” including topics related to politics and economics.
Previously, the DFRLab identified Parecen Noticias Extra posted videos claiming that Venezuela and China interfered in the U.S. presidential elections, as well as allegations on foreign military interventions in Venezuela to oust Maduro from power that ultimately never materialize.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On February 9, NPR published “Colombia Offers Temporary Legal Status To Nearly 1 Million Venezuelan Migrants.” The article reported on Colombian President Iván Duque’s February 8 announcement that his government would provide temporary legal status to nearly 1 million undocumented Venezuelan migrants to stay in Colombia legally for 10 years. NPR quoted the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) press release that described that Duque’s initiative will benefit more than half of the 1.7 million Venezuelans that are living in Colombia as of 2021. NPR said that the legal status would grant Venezuelans access to basic services as well as would benefit Colombia’s security agencies. According to an analysis using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, the piece garnered 16,500 engagements on Facebook as of February 15.
In Venezuela on February 13, independent website Cazadores de Fake Newspublished “Sin RT no hay paraíso: ¿cómo funciona la maquinaria de propaganda en Twitter de Nicolás Maduro?” (“No retweeting, no paradise: how does Nicolás Maduro’s Twitter propaganda machine work?”). Cazadores de Fake News investigated how the Maduro regime manipulates Twitter’s trending topics and created a system of payments on social media to reward Twitter users that amplify pro-Maduro content. The DFRLab previously identified groups on social media platform Telegram coordinating this system of payments.The piece discussed a network of cyborg users – accounts operated by humans showing bot-like behavior – that received benefits through Carnet de la Patria, a program that provides food and medicine to citizens and tracks their access to other public services. Cazadores de Fake News analyzed 24.6 million posts using some 40 pro-Maduro hashtags promoted on Twitter as the “hashtag of the day” by Maduro’s Ministry of Communications in December 2020. The article garnered 611 engagements on Facebook and Twitter combined as of February 15, according to BuzzSumo.
On Social Media
After Alena Douhan, a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and unilateral coercive measures, showed during a press conference on February 12 the preliminary observations of the impact of the U.S. and EU sanctions, pro-Maduro accounts pushed the hashtag #LasSancionesSonUnCrimen (“Sanctions are a crime”) to trend on February 13. Among the most retweeted accounts using the hashtag were accounts for Maduro’s Ministry of Communications and Maduro-funded media VTV, with 3,200 and 2,500 retweets, respectively. The Ministry mentioned Douhan’s observations, condemned the sanctions, and promoted #LasSancionesSonUnCrimen as the “hashtag of the day.” Moreover, VTV’spost also promoted the shipment of Sputnik V. Previously, on March 10, 2020, the DFRLab identified pro-Maduro accounts, including Maduro’s own account and that of Rodríguez, using #LasSancionesSonUnCrimen. The DFRLab found, at that time, signs of traffic manipulation and suspicious accounts in the amplification of the hashtag.
“I think of @jguaido’s letter asking the Bank of England not to pay for vaccines, how they salivated happily at each new sanction, I think of the courage of President @NicolasMaduro along with his people to defeat COVID-19, and I conclude: We shall overcome!”
– Jorge Rodríguez president of the Maduro-controlled National Assembly, on Twitter on February 13, 2021.
“Cuando yo fui a Cuba no fue por temas de salud, fui a una reunión de planificación con Cuba y Venezuela, una reunión de alto nivel a ver cómo retomábamos la democracia”
“When I went to Cuba it was not for health reasons, I went to a planning meeting with Cuba and Venezuela, a high-level meeting to see how we could recover democracy [in Bolivia]”
– Evo Morales, Bolivia’s former president in an interview with EFEon February 13.
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