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Pro-Maduro accounts massively interacted with each other to inauthentically push a “hashtag of the day” to trend
A DFRLab analysis showed that accounts for the Maduro regime’s ministries and self-described Maduro supporters were the most engaged and active using the hashtag #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista (“Venezuela fraternal and humanist”). On January 27, 2021, #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista amassed over 1.3 million mentions and trended on Venezuelan Twitter. A small group of accounts used the hashtag in hundreds of thousands of mentions during the first four hours, showing signs of inauthentic behavior and traffic manipulation.
The most retweeted accounts using #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista were those of Maduro’s Ministry of Communications (@Mippcivzla) and the regime’s Carnet de la Patria (@CarnetDLaPatria), a program that provides food and medicine to citizens and tracks their access to other public services. The Ministry’s post promoted #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista as the “hashtag of the day” and said that Maduro’s “priority” was to achieve “the highest level of immunity of the pandemic in our America.” Meanwhile, Carnet de la Patria shared a clip of Maduro’s broadcast on VTV, saying that the program “has to be at the service of the people’s health.” As of February 8, both posts garnered over 4,300 and 2,600 retweets, respectively.
The DFRLab collected around 1.3 million tweets using Twitter’s free-to-access API (Application Programming Interface) and conducted a social network analysis using the content generated between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., just after the hashtag reached the trending topics. According to getdaytrends[.]com, an open-source tool that stores and analyzes trending topics on Twitter from different countries worldwide, #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista reached the trending topics at 12:00 p.m. UTC (8:00 a.m. Venezuela time).
According to Twitter data, during this time window, the hashtag amassed nearly 150,000 posts by 5,236 user accounts and generated 163,991 interactions, including retweets, mentions, and quotes. The account that received the most interactions was @Mippcivzla, followed by @amelia74698445, one of the main Twitter accounts to support the regime’s hashtags on a daily basis and which posted content tagging other user accounts to encourage promoting the hashtag. Since November 2019, the DFRLab has detected @amelia74698445 as one of the more active and suspicious Twitter accounts using hashtags promoted by Maduro’s Ministry of Communications.
The analysis showed that the user accounts were linked to each other either by retweeting, mentioning, or quoting. This behavior indicated a highly dense connected network formed mostly by accounts aimed to amplify the conversation. As shown in the two graphics below, a highly dense connected network “is a network in which the number of links of each node is close to the maximal number of nodes. Each node is linked to almost all other nodes,” creating a completely connected network.
The following graph shows a network filtered by in-degree (i.e., a measure of how many “inlinks” the accounts received from other user accounts, including interactions such as retweets, mentions, or quotes). Along with the accounts @Mippcivzla and @amelia74698445, other accounts received multiple interactions as well, including retweets and mentions.
The most active user accounts amplified the hashtag mostly through high-volume retweeting of other accounts’ posts. Around 99 percent of all posts coming from the top 300 most active accounts were retweets. These accounts, which represent nearly one-quarter of all user accounts posting content between 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., generated around 50 percent of all tweets during this time window, thus indicating that a small group of Twitter accounts engaged in inauthentic behavior to likely attempt at platform manipulation.
According to social network analysis, three main groups composed the network behind the hashtag #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista: (1) a set of accounts linked to the Maduro regime, some of which represent official institutions, including Maduro’s Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Science and Technology; (2) a set of accounts that support the regime’s daily hashtags – these accounts generate original tweets, including calls for action to coordinate the Twitter activity; and (3) a set of accounts that exhibit amplification features, mostly retweeting other posts.
Another suspicious feature around #VenezuelaSolidariaYHumanista was the high volume of newly created Twitter accounts engaging around the regime hashtags. Based on the user account dataset, around 9,500 Twitter accounts –representing more than 50 percent of all accounts involved in the analysis – were created in or after January 2021. This subset of accounts generated nearly 80 percent of all content, being 98 percent retweets to other posts.
This activity indicated that most of the posts of the hashtag came from newly created accounts, which may be due to earlier pro-Maduro accounts having been suspended or disabled by Twitter.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On February 2, Colombian news outlet El Tiempo published “En Venezuela venden el ‘paquete’ completo para migrar a Colombia” (“The complete ‘package’ to migrate to Colombia is for sale in Venezuela”). The article describes how Venezuelans and Colombians, apparently belonging to human traffic networks, are offering “packages” on social media to travel by land to Colombia and other countries in the region. According to El Tiempo, the authorities do not have enough personnel to control the arrival of Venezuelans in the region of Colombia bordering the municipality of Arauca, where the daily average of Venezuelan migrants crossing the border increased from 180 people at the end of 2020 to 2,000 people between February 1 and February 3, 2021. El Tiempo reported that Venezuelans paid between $35 and $700 to travel from Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. El Tiempo described that the payments include food and bribes to cross at legal and illegal checkpoints. According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, the piece garnered 9,000 interactions on Facebook as of February 8.
In Venezuela on February 7, independent website Prodavinci published “1,423 kilómetros por un tratamiento médico.” (“1,423 kilometers for medical treatment”). Prodavinci discussed a journey of a 56 year-old Venezuelan, using the pseudonym “Kamel,” who traveled from Guárico (Venezuela) to Bogotá (Colombia) for cancer treatment. Prodavinci said that, due to the scarcity of radioactive iodine to treat his thyroid cancer in Venezuela, Kamel paid $250 to cross an illegal path in the Colombian border – also known as a “trocha.” Kamel told Prodavinci that en route the drivers paid money and cigarettes to the officers in at least 18 of 48 Venezuelan checkpoints and that he often saw Colombian paramilitary forces alongside the Bolivarian Guard, near the Colombian border. As of February 8, the piece had gathered 131 interactions on Twitter and Facebook combined, according to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle.
On Social Media
The keyword “Ecuador” trended on Venezuelan Twitter on February 7, the same day the first round of the Ecuadorian presidential elections took place. According to a search using social media listening tool Meltwater Explore, accounts with locations self-selected to Venezuela were the second most active using “Ecuador,” with 23,425 mentions, behind only Ecuador-based accounts, with 53,425 mentions. Trendinalia, a website that monitors Twitter trends in different countries, showed that “Ecuador” was the trend that lasted the longest in Venezuelan, with over 22 hours. Other keywords related to Ecuadorian leaders trended alongside “Ecuador,” such as the names of presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, the current president of Ecuador Lenin Moreno, and former Ecuadorian president and Maduro’s ally, Rafael Correa.
A 59 años del genocida bloqueo de EE.UU. contra Cuba, exaltamos la resistencia de los herederos de Martí. Alzamos la voz para exigir el levantamiento y el cese de esta política criminal que atenta contra los derechos humanos del noble pueblo cubano. ¡Basta de Agresión Imperial!”
“59 years after the genocidal U.S. blockade against Cuba, we extol the resistance of the heirs of Martí. We raise our voice to demand the lifting and cessation of this criminal policy that threatens the human rights of the noble Cuban people. Enough with the Imperial Aggression!”
– Nicolás Maduro on Twitter on February 7, 2020.
The United States condemns media censorship anywhere in the world. Nicolás Maduro is a dictator, there is no doubt about that, and media censorship is a hallmark of dictatorships. […] We certainly do not expect any contact with Maduro anytime soon.”
– Ned Price, Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, at a press briefing on February 3.
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