#AlertaVenezuela: March 17, 2021

#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

Justiciafuser, a pro-Maduro website supporting Alex Saab and amplifying misleading articles against the United States

Justiciafuser describes itself on its Twitter account as a “defender of human rights” reporting on “good news.” The DFRLab, however, found that Justiciafuser’s website is connected to Venezuela and targeted the United States while amplifying misleading claims about the U.S. sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime. Moreover, Twitter accounts for Maduro regime members and organizations appear among those who have shared Justiciafuser articles on social media, including articles about Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman close to Maduro currently being held in Cape Verde ahead of possible extradition to the United States.

According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, Justiciafuser published 67 articles between October 5, 2020 – when its domain was registered – and March 15, 2021. Posted to the website on February 6, 2021, the most engaged-with article on social media was based on an old interview with Richard Black, a former state senator in Virginia, originally published by Kremlin-funded news outlet Sputnik, in Spanish and English, on December 9 and December 10, 2019, respectively. In the interview, Black condemned the U.S. sanctions imposed on the Maduro regime. Justiciafuser, however, failed to clarify that the interview was a few years old, giving Black’s 2019 statements an appearance of being recent.

Justiciafuser’s misrepresentation of when Black made the claims followed earlier – and equally incorrect – misrepresentations from pro-Maduro media outlets Globovisión and La Iguana TV two days prior. While it is true that Black’s position on the U.S. sanctions have been critical, all of the articles suggested or implied that the statements were recent. In addition to the distortion of the date of Black’s statements, the DFRLab found other misleading content in all three outlets’ stories, such as referring to him as “senador estadounidense del Partido Republicano por el estado de Virginia” (“U.S. Senator of the Republican Party from the state of Virginia”), which omits or obscures both that Black is a “former” legislator, implying him to be a current officeholder, and that he was a member of the State of Virginia’s senate and not of the U.S. Senate, as it reads. Both of these omissions allowed the outlets to portray Black as more high profile than he actually is, as being a member of the U.S. Senate carries more power and higher prestige.

Between February 6 and March 15, 2021, Justiciafuser’s article misleadingly quoting Black garnered 1,600 and 581 interactions on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. As an indication of Justiciafuser’s effort to amplify Black’s old interview, its Twitter account pinned ae post sharing a link to the article on March 16 to its timeline.

The DFRLab also found that, among the 20 Justiciafuser’s articles most engaged-with on social media, 13 were related to Saab’s detention and extradition process from Cape Verde to the United States.

Screencap of BuzzSumo query shows that eight (green boxes) out of 10 of Justiciafuser’s articles most engaged-with on social media were related to Saab. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

Twitter accounts belonging to Maduro regime high-ranking members and Maduro’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela) were among those sharing Justiciafuser’s articles. For instance, links to the article about Black’s statements were shared by the PSUV, former Education Minister Elías Jaua, and Maduro-controlled National Assembly representative Tania Valentina Díaz.

Moreover, Maduro’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza and Chavista journalist Carola Chávez retweeted a Justiciafuser post that shared a link to an article about Saab on March 15. The article, containing only two sentences, reported on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decision on the liberation of Saab, whom Cape Verde authorities arrested on June 12, 2020, following an Interpol red notice. On March 17, the Supreme Court of Cape Verde decided in favor of Saab’s extradition to the United States. Saab’s lawyers said to Colombian media outlet El Tiempo that they will be appealing the decision to Cape Verde and ECOWAS.

Pro-Maduro’s Twitter accounts appeared as the “top sharers” of Justiciafuser’s article about Black’s statements (top). Arreaza and Chávez (bottom) were among the accounts that retweeted Justiciafuser’s post sharing a link to an article reporting on Saab’s extradition process. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo and Twitter)

According to a search using the online website investigation tool DNSlytics, “The Stormi” registered Justiciafuser.com on October 5, 2020, with a registrant country of Panama. Although the province or state registered for Justiciafuser.com is Miranda, there is no Panamanian region under that name. However, The Stormi has also registered the website Thestormi.com, which has a registrant location in the Venezuelan state of Miranda. Thestormi.com shows only a landing page announcing the launching of the website.

The Stormi has two websites registered: Thestormi.com and Justiciafuser.com. While both sites are registered in the state of Miranda, the registrant countries of Thestormi.com (orange box) and Justiciafuser.com (green box) are Venezuela and Panama, respectively. (Source: DFRLab via DNSlytics)

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On March 15, 2021, BBC News Mundo published “‘Aquí no hay diésel:’ la última crisis de Venezuela y cómo puede llevar a un ‘aumento drástico’ de la inseguridad alimentaria en el país” (“‘There is no diesel here:’ the last Venezuela’s crisis and how it could lead to a ‘dramatic increase’ in food insecurity in the country”). The article explains the current lack of diesel in Venezuela, which could lead in the near future to a dramatic stop in the food production chain, affecting crops and the downstream supply chain, “in a country that, according to the United Nations World Food Programme, two thirds of the Venezuelan population do not have an enough stable supply of food,” described the article. According to a search using the social media listening tool CrowdTangle, the piece collected more than 956 interactions on Facebook, including shares, likes, and comments, at the time of writing.

In Venezuela, the independent media outlet Cazadores de Fake News published: “Los trolls que defienden a las FAES en Twitter” (“The trolls that defend the FAES [Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales, a unit of Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Police] on Twitter”) on March 10, 2021. The article analyzed a coordinated Twitter network of accounts, created between January and February 2021, that support the FAES. According to the piece, this network started engaging on Twitter after El Pitazo, a Venezuelan digital media outlet, and Provea (Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humanos [The Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights]), a Venezuela-based nongovernmental organization, published articles on FAES highlighting the military and police-linked violence in Venezuela. According to a search using the social media listening tool BuzzSumo, the piece garnered 244 engagements on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit combined up to March 15, 2021.

On Social Media

The hashtag “LesDueleLaVerdad” (“The truth hurts them”) trended on Twitter on March 11, 2021, gathering around 3,000 mentions. The hashtag trended after Maria Corina Machado, a Venezuelan congressperson and leader from the opposition Vente Venezuela party, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 11. In her speech, Maria Corina questioned the Council’s integrity after claiming that the Maduro regime, accused of crimes against humanity, is part of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Official Statements

¿Cuántos muertos más hacen falta para que ustedes actúen? ¿Cuántos desaparecidos y presos políticos? ¿No es suficiente seis millones de migrantes y desplazados? ¿Necesitan 10? ¿15? ¿Para qué existe este Consejo? ¿Para escuchar a tiranos y criminales o para escuchar a las víctimas? ¿Para lavarle la cara a los peores violadores de derechos humanos del mundo o para que el mundo conozca y reaccione ante estas atrocidades? Es una vergüenza que el régimen venezolano, acusado de crímenes de lesa humanidad, sea parte de este Consejo”

“How many deaths do you [U.N. Human Rights Council] need to act? How many disappeared and political prisoners? Is 6 million migrants and refugees not enough? Do you need 10? 15? What is this Council for? To listen to tyrants and criminals or to listen to the victims? To wash the face [Ed. Note: an idiom meaning to whitewash] of the worst human rights violations in the world or for the world to know and react to these atrocities? It is a shame that the Venezuelan regime, accused of crimes against humanity, is part of this Council.”

– María Corina Machado at the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 11, 2021.

#COMMUNIQUÉ | Venezuela joins the request of African lawyers and demands the Government of Cape Verde to immediately release Alex Saab.”

–  Maduro’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Twitter on March 09, 2021.

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