#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.
Anti-socialist hashtags targeting Maduro and Guaidó accompany pleas to U.S. President Donald Trump for a military intervention
On July 21-23, 2020, Twitter accounts petitioning U.S. President Donald Trump for a military intervention in Venezeula also pushed four hashtags to trend that promoted anti-socialist messaging against Juan Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro. The accounts, all of which had set their locations to Venezuela, showed signs of inauthenticity and platform manipulation, such as posting duplicative content and creating fake engagement.
The hashtags – #AllAgainstSocialism, #TodosContraElSocialismo (“Everyone against socialism”), #GuaidoAndMUDtraitors [MUD is the Spanish acronym for opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática], and #GuaidoYMUDtraidores (“Guaido and MUD traitors”) – all appeared after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s July 21 announcement of a $5 million reward “for information leading to the arrest” of the president of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia – Venezuela’s equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court – Maikel Jose Moreno Perez. Some of the tweets using the hashtags mentionedthe reward against Moreno, but the most common content was related to asking Trump to intervene militarily in order to oust Maduro from power. The accounts using the hashtags tagged the official account for the President of the United States and Trump’s personal account more than any other account: @POTUS appeared in 12,573 posts (tweets, retweets, and replies) while @realDonaldTrump appeared in 11,192 posts.
The accounts also created negative content targeting Guaidó’s position regarding unseating the Maduro regime, in particular because Guaidó prefers a democratic resolution over any military confrontation. Moreover, the accounts criticized Guaidó and his former party, Voluntad Popular (VP), which has an extensive agenda on social issues.
The four hashtags garnered 18,203 mentions on Twitter between July 20 and July 25, and trended in Venezuela on July 21 and July 22. Moreover, two of the hashtags remained in the trending topics on July 23, as seen in the table below.
The accounts also used the four hashtags alongside other hashtags related to Trump, including #Maga2020 (1,281 mentions) and #Maga (907 mentions), both of which reference the U.S. president’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” (MAGA). The most used hashtag along with the four mentioned above, however, was #TaskForce4Venezuela (15,420 mentions), which was first used on July 19 by accounts aligned with the opposition to both Maduro and Guaidó, such as former Venezuelan vice admiral Mario Ivan Carratú Molina and “non-partisan group of independent Venezuelans” Vanguardia Ciudadana. #TaskForce4Venezuela was used in conjunction with requests for a U.S. military intervention.
Additionally, the posts using the four hashtags showed some signs of platform manipulation. For instance, a message inviting to copy, paste, and tweet the four hashtags was tweeted 13 times and retweeted 429, while other accounts used random text and memes from psalms. Twitter considers anything that “make[s] accounts or content appear more popular or active than they are” to be “prohibited behavior.” Moreover, 3,152 accounts used the hashtags six times each on average. The average is abnormally high: organic campaigns that the DFRLab has previously analyzed have shown an average of fewer than two posts per account per hashtag.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On July 27, British news outlet BBC in Spanish published “Crisis en Venezuela: qué hay detrás de la ‘fiebre’ por excavar pozos en los edificios residenciales de Caracas” (“Venezuela’s Crisis: what’s behind the ‘fever’ of digging wells in Caracas’s residential buildings”). The article described how Venezuelans are building wells in their houses to access drinking water. According to the Living Conditions Survey in Venezuela (also known in Spanish by its acronym “Encovi”) quoted by BBC, 74 percent of Venezuelan homes do not have regular access to water due to the collapse of the public water system. BBC interviewed engineers who work installing the wells and real estate agents who said “the fever” of building wells started “about a year ago.” BBC said the cost of a well runs between $15,000 to $25,000 and has become a “widespread trend” in high income neighborhoods that “is beginning to be seen in less elitist areas as well.” BBC also described that underground water could cover 10 percent of the water demand in Caracas, but other Venezuelan cities – such as Maracaibo and Valencia – have wells that have now dried up due to overexploitation.
In Venezuela, independent website Efecto Cocuyo published on July 26, “De 30 decesos del personal de salud, gobierno de Maduro solo reconoce diez” (“Out of 30 deaths of health personnel, 10 are recognized by the Maduro government”). Efecto Cocuyo claimed that 30 health workers infected with COVID-19 had died between March 23 and July 25, 2020, during the pandemic in Venezuela. The Maduro regime, however, has only identified 10 deaths of health workers during the same period. Efecto Cocuyo found the first 10 deaths in the pandemic occurred before June 28, while the Maduro regime only “recognized” the first death on that same date. Efecto Cocuyo mentioned – among other irregularities in the reports by the Maduro regime – the death of gastroenterologist José Clavier in the Venezuelan state of Bolívar on July 10, a death that was officially reported as that of a businessman instead of a doctor. Efecto Cocuyo highlighted that July had the highest number (19) of health worker deaths in Venezuela due to the novel coronavirus.
On Social Media
The hashtag #CubaPorLaSalud (“Cuba for health”) trended on Twitter in Venezuela on July 26. Accounts belonging to Cuban organizations based in Venezuela promoted the hashtag to celebrate the Cuban anniversary of the attack on Moncada Barracks. The hashtag was used alongside #CubaCoopera, which the DFRLab and Probox previously identified as one of the six hashtags promoted by Cuba-linked accounts that trended in Venezuela between April 1 to May 1, 2020. #CubaCoopera trended anew on July 26.
The Democrats in the House are trying to undo my big win Travel Ban Bill, which successfully keeps very bad and dangerous people out of our great Country. Passed along party lines. Hopefully, will be DEAD in the Senate! The Dems have gone Stone Cold Left – Venezuela on steroids!”
–U.S. President Donald Trump on Facebook on July 25, 2020.
El gobierno de Trump no es más que una secta supremacista que pretende gobernar el mundo a partir de sanciones arbitrarias y narrativas ficticias. Ante su pésimo desempeño general y desastrosa gestion contra el #COVID_19, acude [a] acciones desesperadas para obtener votos en Florida.
“The Trump government is nothing but a supremacist sect that pretends to rule the world through arbitrary sanctions and fictitious narratives. In the face of its overall disastrous performance against COVID-19, he is taking desperate actions in order to win votes in Florida.”
– Jorge Arreaza, Maduro’s minister of foreign affairs, on Twitter on July 23.
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