#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.
“Chavista” Twitter accounts supported Maduro regime operation that may have resulted in over 20 deaths
While independent media and Venezuelan nongovernmental organizations described an attempt by Nicolás Maduro’s security forces to combat criminal gangs in a Caracas slum as a “massacre,” self-described Chavista Twitter accounts politicized and celebrated the killings. The DFRLab found signs of inauthentic behavior among the accounts amplifying posts by the Chavistas and Maduro regime officials.
Between January 6 and January 8, 2021, an armed confrontation occurredbetween criminal gangs that control La Vega, a slum in the Caracas area, and Maduro regime forces. On January 8, the Maduro regime deployed units of Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Police, led by members of Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales (“Special Action Forces,” known by its acronym in Spanish as FAES). The circumstances of the operation remain unclear, as the Maduro regime has yet to release an official statement. Pro-Maduro media outlets, such as La Tabla and La Iguana, posted that La Vega was peaceful after the operations and that 15 alleged gang members and “two innocents” supposedly killed by “missing bullets” fired by the gangs were among those killed.
As its source, the La Iguana article relied on Venezuelan freelance journalist Roman Camacho, who said that Maduro forces had killed 13 “criminals,” without mentioning his source for that information. On January 8, FAES Commander Miguel Domínguez tweeted a link to La Iguana’s article and, the following day, posted that FAES provided “security and protection” in La Vega. Dominguez did not tweet further information about the operation.
Independent news outlet Runrun.es reported on the identification of 10 of the victims, estimating the total of unconfirmed deaths to be 24 as of January 10. Runrun.es interviewed relatives and residents of La Vega who described the circumstances of the deaths and pointed to Maduro’s security and gang members as those responsible. Runrun.es also found that the deceased would not be delivered to the relatives and would be sent straight to the cemetery and that the Maduro regime would assume the cost of the burial for some of the dead. Separately, BBC World cited Provea, a Venezuelan nongovernmental organization, that qualified the operation as the “worst police massacre” in Venezuela since 2015. Provea also posted asking for a Maduro regime response to know the circumstances of the confrontation.
On Twitter, the DFRLab analyzed 99,000 mentions using the keywords “La Vega” and “FAES” between January 6 and January 11. Among the most engaged-with accounts using the keywords were accounts for journalists and self-described Chavistas.
A tweet from Camacho reporting on the armed confrontation on January 6 was the most engaged-with, garnering 1,280 interactions (likes, replies, and retweets). The second most engaged-with post was from @LauV28, a self-described “100% Chavista,” with 1,190 interactions. @LauV28 claimed that “all Venezuela” supported the “La Vega massacre” against the felons and said that those who criticized the Maduro regime operation belonged to the opposition and sought a “political benefit.” Domínguez’s January 9 post appeared as the seventh most engaged-with, garnering 727 engagements.
An analysis of the accounts retweeting both @LauV28 and Domínguez showed signs of inauthentic behavior. For instance, 23 of those accounts have joined Twitter since January 1, 2021. Moreover, 10 of the accounts that retweeted Domínguez’s post were created between January 6 and January 8, during the armed confrontation in La Vega.
According to a search using Twitter analysis tool TruthNest, @javicarrillo70 – the most active of the set of accounts – posted 5,139 tweets between January 9 and January 12, an average of 1,285 posts per day. The DFRLab considers 72 tweets per day to be suspicious and over 144 tweets per day as highly suspicious, thus a posting rate of 1,285 per day would be a significant indicator of inauthentic behavior.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On January 7, the European edition of Politico published “MEPs urge Borrell to show more support for Venezuela’s Guaidó.” In the article, Politico said that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) expressed disagreement with a decision by Josep Borrell, European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief, to “downgrade the status” of Juan Guaidó, whom until recently the EU had considered to be – and many countries including the United States continue to refer to him as – interim president of Venezuela. According to Politico, Borrell published a statement on January 6 in which he “only” referred to Guaidó as a member of Venezuela’s “outgoing National Assembly.” Politico explained that the EU “has previously been unable” to take a unanimous position on Venezuela, because “Italy’s government could not agree on supporting such a move.” Dita Charanzová, vice president of the European Parliament in charge of Latin American Affairs, told Politico that she is “pushing for a debate” to recognize Guaidó’s National Assembly and his position as Venezuela’s interim president. The article garnered 288 interactions on Twitter between January 7 and January 12, according to a search using social media tool CrowdTangle.
In Venezuela on January 12, independent website Efecto Cocuyo published “Lo cierto, dudoso y falso de la Memoria y Cuenta 2020 de Nicolás Maduro” (“The true, dubious, and false of Nicolas Maduro’s 2020 accountability”). The piece debunked the management report Maduro submitted to the National Assembly, which he effectively took control of after December’s highly disputed election, on January 12. Efecto Cocuyo described that, since 2017, Maduro presented an annual report to his government organizations, such as his Supreme Court and National Constituent Assembly. Efecto Cocuyo determined that five out of eight of Maduro’s claims in the management report were false. For instance, Maduro claimed that, in 2020, the country had produced 400,000 tons of food, but Efecto Cocuyointerviewed experts who said that “food production has fallen back to what it was more than half a century ago.” Efecto Cocuyo also found that between 65 and 96 percent of Venezuelan households live in general poverty, not 17 percent as Maduro claimed. According to a search using social media tool CrowdTangle, the piece amassed 110 engagements on Twitter on January 12.
On Social Media
The hashtag #2021SinCensura (“2021 without censorship”) trended on Twitter on January 10, pushed by human rights organizations and media outlets. Runrun.es reported that, during the first week of 2021, seven news outlets were affected by disinformation campaigns, closure of offices, seizure of equipment by the Maduro regime, and digital attacks. Espacio Público, a Venezuelan civil society organization that promotes and defends freedom of speech, said that during the pandemic, from March 16, 2020 to January 10, 2021, 748 violations against freedom of speech occurred in Venezuela. The most retweeted account using #2021SinCensura was Rocío San Miguel, president of human rights organization Control Ciudadano, who promoted the hashtag as a trending topic and garnered 642 retweets.
Comparto el vídeo que grabó un individuo disfrazado de ‘búfalo’, haciendo comentarios en contra de Venezuela, realizado antes de que entrara de manera violenta al Capitolio de los EE.UU. Esto nos muestra la locura del racismo, el extremismo y el supremacismo.”
“I share the video that recorded an individual disguised as a ‘buffalo,’ making comments against Venezuela before he violently entered the U.S. Capitol. This shows us the madness of racism, extremism, and supremacism.”
– Nicolás Maduro on Twitter on January 10, 2021.
El aparato de inteligencia y seguridad cubano se ha infiltrado en las fuerzas de seguridad y militares de Venezuela y ha ayudado a N. Maduro a mantener el control férreo sobre su población, al tiempo que permite que operen organizaciones terroristas.”
“The Cuban intelligence and security apparatus has infiltrated Venezuela’s security and military forces and helped [Nicolás] Maduro to maintain tight control over its population while allowing terrorist organizations to operate.”
– James Story, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, on Twitter on January 11.
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