#AlertaVenezuela: July 2, 2020

#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.

Top Story

Twitter accounts linked to Cuba promoted hashtags that trended in Venezuela

Twitter accounts with set locations of Cuba and Venezuela made at least six anti-U.S. and pro-Cuba hashtags trend in Venezuela. The accounts used the hashtags to denounce U.S. sanctions and to promote Cuban medical missions in Venezuela.

Cuba-related hashtags have trended in Venezuela before, but the DFRLab and its partner organization, ProBox, found they have appeared with increasing frequency since April 2020. Despite having been initiated by apparently Cuban accounts, the six hashtags analyzed trended in Venezuela between April 2 and May 1, 2020, after Venezuela-based accounts promoted them.

The DFRLab collected data from the hours before and after the hashtags reached the trending topics. The following table shows the analyzed hashtags.

The table shows attributes for each of the six analyzed hashtags, including unique accounts per hashtag, mentions, and the day it trended. (Source: @danielsuarezper/DFRLab using Brandwatch)

The most active accounts using the hashtags belong to Cuban regime organizations and medical personnel apparently based in Cuba or Venezuela, such as the Cuban medical missions. In total, 13,365 individual Twitter accounts used the six hashtags in the timeframes analyzed. Only 47 percent of these accounts set the location in their Twitter profile. Cuba and Venezuela were the most common locations among accounts engaging with the hashtags. Since Twitter users can define their locations, that does not necessarily mean that these accounts were indeed operated from these countries.

The graph shows the top 15 user-defined locations set by the accounts who promoted the analyzed hashtags. (Source: @estebanpdl/DFRLab)

Accounts that set their location to Cuba amassed nearly 22,500 posts, which represented about 25 percent of all mentions. Moreover, the second most popular user-defined location among the accounts tweeting the hashtags was Venezuela, which explained how hashtags started by Cuban accounts trended in Venezuela. The DFRLab found that 26 percent of the accounts that set a location in their profile identified themselves as Venezuela-based. In total, the activity of this group amassed nearly 9,000 posts mentioning the hashtags, representing around 10 percent of all mentions.

Read the complete DFRLab investigation, including further analysis of the accounts’ behavior and suspicious signs of traffic manipulation pushing the hashtags to trend.

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On June 26, news agency Reuters published an interview with Colombian President Iván Duque, “Venezuela is a health ‘time bomb,’ Colombian president says,” in which he talks about measures to control coronavirus outbreak inside his country and along its borders with Venezuela and Brazil. Duque said to Reuters “I think Venezuela is a time bomb from the public health point of view” while “Brazil and its officials are making efforts to control the virus.” Brazil has the world’s second highest number of infected cases after the United States. According to Reuters, Duque claimed the information on the coronavirus outbreak in Venezuela is “nonexistent” and “there is not good hospital capacity or good epidemiological capacity, for a long time they have not had serious vaccination programs.” Reuters explained Colombia has been the “top destination” for Venezuelan migrants and that Nicolás Maduro has claimed most COVID-19 cases in Venezuela “can be traced to migrants returning from Colombia and Brazil.”

In Venezuela, independent website El Pitazo published on June 26, “Defensores de DD. HH: la tortura es el método masivo de represión de Maduro” (“Human rights defenders: torture is Maduro’s most common repressive method”). The article states that the Maduro regime killed 72 Venezuelans after being tortured between 2013 and 2019, 23 of which occurred in 2019. El Pitazo interviewed political prisoners’ relatives, human rights organizations, lawyers, and experts who claimed the Maduro regime uses torture to “slaughter dissent.” According to Tamara Suju, a penal lawyer and Casla Institute director, Maduro has used torture over the last two years as a means of “punishing” alleged conspirators and of “forcing them to provide accusations against others or themselves.” El Pitazo further details how nongovernmental organizations had found that the Maduro regime’s detention centers –where the torture reportedly takes place – currently hold 424 political prisoners.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #VzlaNoMasCensura (“Venezuela, no more censorship”) trended on Twitter on June 27, during the celebration of Venezuelan Journalist Day. Accounts belonging to media, journalists, and organizations monitoring censorship in Venezuela elevated #VzlaNoMasCensura to the trending topics. Venezuelan independent media El Nacional was also among the most active accounts tweetingarticles with stories of journalists who have been censored in Venezuela since 2000. El Nacional also highlighted attacks on 129 journalists between March 22 to June 24, 2020, during the lockdown amid the pandemic in Venezuela.

Official Statements

El día de hoy un grupo de funcionarios de la Unión Europea se reunieron para analizar la situación de Venezuela, en la mayor tradición colonial, intervencionista, supremacista. […] La Unión Europea sacó una resolución donde sanciona a aquellos Venezolanos que formando parte de instituciones del estado defienden la Constitución.

“Today, a group of officials from the European Union gathered to analyze Venezuela’s situation in the greatest colonial, interventionist, and supremacist tradition. The European Union passed a resolution that sanctioned those Venezuelans who work for the state to protect the Constitution”

– Nicolás Maduro, during a June 29 VTV broadcast. Maduro was responding to new EU sanctions imposed against regime members and National Assembly representatives who are aligned with the Maduro regime. Also in response, Maduro ordered the EU’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, to leave the country within 72 hours.

“[The] U.S. desperate moves against Iranian individuals – like the one announced by @SecPompeo, aka the #SecretaryofHate – just signal the miserable failure of the so-called ‘max pressure’. Despite U.S. pressure, #Iran & #Venezuela remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions.”

– Abbas Mousavi, spokesman of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in reference to new sanctions announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter on June 24.

Recent Analysis

From the DFRLab:

As reported in the Top Story above, the DFRLab released “Cuba-linked Twitter activity target Venezuelan social media,” which looked at Cuban accounts connected to the regime promoting hashtags to trend on Twitter in Venezuela. The analysis showed that a small group of accounts – including also accounts that set their location in Venezuela –attempted to manipulate the trending topics on the platform.

The Atlantic Council, the University of Navarra, and Transparency International Venezuela hosted a virtual event, “Trust in elections and the problem of disinformation in Venezuela” on June 30. A recording of the event can be seen here. The speakers discussed the impact of digital disinformation and censorship  in the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Venezuela. During the event, the University of Navarra and Transparency Venezuela shared with the audience the findings of their upcoming report The Phenomenon of Digital Disinformation in the Venezuelan Context.

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