#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.
“Luis Parra” trends on pro-Maduro Twitter following his testing for COVID-19
Representatives aligned with Luis Parra, Maduro’s illegitimately installed National Assembly president, announcing on July 19 that he had been hospitalized after “apparent pneumonia.” Pro-Maduro accounts used Parra’s name to convey news about his condition and to promote Maduro regime’s hashtags on Twitter. “Luis Parra” trended as a keyword on Venezuela between July 19-21, 2020.
Parra is a Venezuelan National Assembly representative who was previously aligned with the Maduro regime’s opposition until December 2019, when its members accused him and other representatives of being co-opted by the regime. On January 5, 2020, the Maduro regime appointed Parra as head of the National Assembly in an illegitimate session marked by irregularities. The same day, in a parallel election, a majority of the elected Assembly members reelected Juan Guaidó as president of the body with 100 out of 167 votes. Guaidó has also received the support of more than 50 countries that recognize him as Venezuela’s interim president.
Since the accusation, Parra’s activity on Twitter has also pivoted to reflect his realigned political position by openly supporting the Maduro regime and attacking Guaidó. Venezuelan independent media Efecto Cocuyo identified that Parra has changed his tone from being in opposition to “cooperating” with Maduro. Moreover, digital activity observatory Probox detected accounts that promoted a pro-Parra hashtag to trend also used hashtags supporting chavismo.
José Brito, a National Assembly member aligned with Parra, was the first to announce on Twitter that Parra had been taken to the hospital and tested negative for the novel coronavirus on July 19. After Brito’s tweet, “Luis Parra” reached trending topics on Twitter and amassed 7,689 tweets, retweets, and replies as of July 21. Pro-Maduro accounts, such as @SanchezBrujito and @CheguevaraClap, used “Luis Parra” alongside the hashtags #PonDeTuParte (“Do your part”) and #DíaDelNiñoEnFamilia (“Children’s Day with the family”). Maduro’s Ministry of Communications used both hashtags as the “hashtag of the day” to promote the regime’s efforts to fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
According to a search using Meltwater’s social media listening tool Explore, tweets by pro-Maduro accounts were also the most retweeted using “Luis Parra.” The accounts @SomosRioCrecid and @LuisCarrillo66, for example, tweeted about Parra’s health condition and used both hashtags promoted by the Ministry of Communications. Both tweets gathered 110 and 11 retweets, respectively.
The account @takal8 used not only the pro-Maduro hashtags alongside “Luis Parra” but also echoed Maduro’s claim against “trocheros,” a pejorative term Maduro used to describe Venezuelan migrants returning to their country by illegal paths (“trochas”) across the border as well as those who facilitated that crossing. @takal8 claimed Colombian President Iván Duque and Guaidó had used Venezuelan migrants returning to the country as a “bioterrorist weapon” to attack Venezuela. The tweet, which garnered only five retweets and two likes at the time of research, also suggested that Duque and Guaidó had targeted Parra.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On July 20, Colombian outlet El Tiempo published “Los videos del emisario del ELN jurando lealtad total a Nicolás Maduro” (“Videos show ELN [acronym in Spanish for Colombian guerrilla group National Liberation Army] emissary swearing total loyalty to Nicolas Maduro”). The article included a video of Álvaro Díaz Tarazona, a board member of the Eastern Bloc of the ELN, in which he asked Maduro to work together along the Colombian border and mentioned alleged proof of Venezuelan military officials who would supposedly betray Maduro. El Tiempofound other evidence that showed high-ranking Maduro regime officials, such as María Iris Varela, minister of Popular Power for the Prison Service, and Noel Rafael Martínez, director of Corporación Venezolana de Guyana, had meetings with Díaz and other ELN members. According to El Tiempo, Díaz – who is also know by his aliases “Edward,” “Fujimori,” and “Ojitos”– supports Maduro’s Bolivarian revolution to fight against “the imperialist enemy, paramilitary forces, and drug trafficking.” El Tiempo said Colombian intelligence officials seized the video alongside a letter dated to March 15, 2019. The article garnered 9,600 interactions on Facebook and Twitter combined, according to a search using BuzzSumo.
In Venezuela, independent website El Pitazo published on July 21, “Estos son los oficialistas que han dado positivo en prueba del COVID-19” (“These are the officials who have tested positive for COVID-19”). The article discussed a number of the Maduro regime’s officials and public workers who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in July 2020. According to El Pitazo, “the truth is that these cases are no longer external to the revolutionary side,” despite Maduro’s claims that middle-class travelers and Venezuelan migrants returning to the country are the source of the infections. El Pitazo identified among Maduro’s supporters two governors, four mayors, six members of the National Constituent Assembly, and 45 employees of state-funded outlet VTV. El Pitazo also mentioned other Maduro regime officials as recovering from COVID-19, including Diosdado Cabello, Maduro’s second-in-command and president of Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent National Assembly, and Tareck El Aissami, Maduro’s vice president of economy and minister of oil.
On Social Media
The hashtag #RespetoALosMigrantes (“Respect for migrants”) trended on Twitter between July 18-19, after opposition party Voluntad Popular tweeted a campaign to support Venezuelan migrants returning to the country. While accounts aligned with the opposition rejected Maduro’s claims that migrants are biological weapons or must be evicted from hotels in Venezuela, pro-Maduro accounts used the hashtag to bolster Maduro’s claims.
Maduro es un traidor a la soberanía venezolana y una amenaza para la paz de la región. Grupos terroristas como el ELN le juran lealtad y confiesan tener grabaciones del alto mando militar de Venezuela. ¿Nuestra Fuerza Armada va a seguir permitiendo esta deshonra?
“Maduro is a traitor to Venezuelan sovereignty and a threat to peace in the region. Terrorist groups like ELN swear loyalty to him and confess to having recordings of high-ranking Venezuelan military officials. Will our Armed Forces continue to allow this dishonor?”
– Juan Guaidó on Twitter on July 19, 2020
Suffocation with plastic bags. Waterboarding. Electric shocks to eyelids and genitalia. Sexual violence. Exposure to low temperatures and/or constant electric light. Death threats. Brutal beatings. Torture in Venezuela, according to @mbachelet
– José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, on Twitter on July 17. Vivanco also included a screenshot of a July 15 report from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
Our Team in the News:
Terca Livre, UOL, Tecnoblog, O Antagonista, Valor Economico, Tododia, and Devdiscourse mentioned research by DFRLab on Facebook’s takedown of 88 accounts, groups, and pages that linked to employees of President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons. The DFRLab found in a separate report some of the accounts shared anti-socialist memes targeting the Maduro regime that had been shared before by the Venezuelan libertarians who have appeared in pictures with Bolsonaro and his sons in the past. Amazon Asatual and CostaNorte also quoted DFRLab researcher Luiza Bandeira with regard to the research.
Cambio16 mentioned the DFRLab’s article “Cuba-linked Twitter activity target Venezuelan social media.” The article 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– participated in an attempt at platform manipulation.
From the DFRLab: The DFRLab released “New accounts, old tricks: pro-Maduro regime propaganda on Twitter,” which detected a batch of newly created chavista accounts that mimicked past Venezuelan operations in pushing pro-Maduro hashtags to trend. The DFRLab identified at least 12 accounts with the prefix “tuiteros” (“tweeters”) followed by the names of various countries and geographical regions, such as Tuiteros Rusia (“Russia Tweeters”). The accounts appeared on Twitter with the apparent intention of supporting Nicolás Maduro.
The DFRLab also published “Facebook suspendió cuentas inauténticas que influyeron en diferentes elecciones de Latinoamérica,” a Spanish language version of the July 8 DFRLab report regarding Facebook’s takedown of 174 accounts, groups, and pages related to Latin America. Facebook attributed these assets to Estraterra, an Ecuadorian public relations firm operating out of Canada, as well as political consultants and former government employees of former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The DFRLab identified these assets engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior attempting to influence local politics in the region, including Venezuela.
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