#AlertaVenezuela: March 3, 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

Fringe outlets reporting on Barquisimeto attack received more engagement than traditional media

Fringe outlets that reported on an attack on a Juan Guaidó rally in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, received more engagement on social media than traditional and trustworthy outlets that wrote about the same topic.

Armed men opened fire against participants of a march called by Guaidó in the city of Barquisimeto on February 29. At least one person was shot and many others were injured while trying to escape the attack. An armed man also pointed a gun at Guaidó but did not fire. Guaidó’s convoy was also targeted, with images emerging on social media showing bullet-riddled vehicles.

Guaidó called the rally in Barquisimeto as a part of his renewed efforts to remove Maduro from power. The Venezuelan press and Guaidó’s team later identified the perpetrators of the attack as “colectivos,” pro-regime civilian armed groups known for using force against members and supporters of the interim government (as recognized by more than 50 countries). According to the news agency Associated Press (AP), it was the first time these “pro-government vigilantes” had directly pointed a weapon at Guaidó.

Fringe outlets, including partisan websites and blogs, received more engagement when covering the events than traditional media and independent digital outlets from Venezuela, according to a BuzzSumo search. The DFRLab analyzed articles and videos published with the word “Guaidó” in their title between February 29 and March 2. Among the seven articles that received more engagement (shares, likes, and other reactions), four were published by fringe websites or news aggregators, and one was a YouTube video. Only two articles were published by a well-known outlet, Colombian broadcaster NTN24.

Graph shows that, among the top seven articles about the incident, four were from fringe outlets and news aggregators (red boxes), two were from mainstream outlet NTN24 (blue boxes), and one was a YouTube video (orange box). The first article in the image is not related to the incident in Barquisimeto (Source: @danielsuarezper/DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

Some of the articles published by these outlets were misleading or lacked evidence. The blog “DonLengua,” for instance, published an article claiming to have identified the man that pointed a weapon at Guaidó. The image verification, however, was weak and lacked robust evidence that the man identified was the same one that participated in the attack. It remained unknown whether the man was the actual perpetrator, and, as such, the risk of a false positive, and all the negative consequences thereof, remained high. Regardless of the relatively weak analysis, the blog nevertheless received around 12,000 interactions, most of them on Facebook.

EsCaracas.com, another of the fringe websites, also published an article based on inaccurate information. The piece “Estados Unidos se pronuncia ante el ataque a Guaidó: ‘Pronto sentirán todo el peso de la ley’” (“The United States speaks out about the attack against Guaidó: ‘Soon they will face the full force of the law’”) included excerpts from a February 2019 interview with U.S. President Donald Trump but falsely changed the timing of the remarks, implying that the U.S. president had given the statement recently in condemnation of the recent attack against Guaidó. The interview was originally published on the CBS TV program “Face the Nation.”

The article received 9,900 interactions on social media networks. Among the most active Facebook groups sharing the EsCaracas.com publication were two groups supporting opposition leaders, such as “Yo Sigo con Leopoldo López” (“I still support Leopoldo López”) and “Yo Sigo con Henrique Capriles” (“I still support Henrique Capriles”).

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On February 28, U.S. outlet Miami Herald published “As coronavirus lands in Latin America, Venezuela’s Maduro amps up conspiracy theories.” The article quoted an official statement from Maduro, given during a national announcement, when he said “there was ‘much global analysis that shows that the coronavirus could be a strain created for biological warfare against China.’” In the statement, Maduro provided no further context as to who or what he believed would seek to attack China with the coronavirus. Miami Herald elaborated further, saying that the conspiracy theory had been exposed by U.S. commentators, specifically Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, who “suggested” that “the coronavirus was a Chinese biological warfare experiment” that was released from a research lab. Miami Herald, in its story, explained that Maduro is known for propagating conspiracy theories but neglected to mention that Limbaugh and Jones are equally culpable for promoting conspiracy theories.

On February 26, BBC News Mundo (the Spanish language service of BBC), published “Crisis en Venezuela: ‘Tuve que firmar unos papeles que no entendí y entregar a mi bebé,’ el auge de las adopciones ilegales en el país” (“Venezuela crisis: ‘I had to sign some papers I did not understand and hand over my baby,’ illegal adoption’s growth in the country”). Given a lack of official numbers of newborns that had to be handed over for adoption by their parents, the author, Guillermo D. Olmo, relied on interviews with public workers, activists, artists, and relatives of children forced into adoption for his report. According to the experts quoted in the article, the number of cases of forced adoptions has increased due to the economic crisis in Venezuela.

What’s Trending

On Social Media

The hashtag #TrumpLaAmenazaEresTú (“Trump you are the threat”) trended on Twitter between February 27 and March 1, 2020. Pro-Maduro accounts were the most active accounts pushing the hashtag.

The hashtag trended after Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) high commissioner for human rights, denounced cases of human rights violations in Venezuela. Pro-Maduro accounts on Twitter used the opportunity to deploy the rhetoric of the Maduro regime to reply to Bachelet, claiming that the problem in Venezuela is not caused by the regime but by sanctions imposed by the United States on the country.

Official Statements

La dictadura pudo haberme matado y haberme asesinado hoy, sin duda alguna. Dispararon, accionaron armas de fuego cerca a nosotros, me apuntaron, pero eso no nos va a hacer retroceder, ni eso ni perseguir o detener a familiares (…) Una persona tampoco es suficiente, por eso es importante este mensaje de unirnos definitivamente.”

“The dictatorship could have killed me; it could have assassinated me today, without a doubt. They shot guns, they aimed guns at me, but that will not make us retreat, not this, and not arresting our families […] One person is not enough, this is why this message is important for uniting us indefinitely.” – Juan Guaidó, talking about the attack in Barquisimeto, on YouTube on February 29.

Porque nos quieren meter el terrorismo de Colombia y Estados Unidos. Están tratando de infiltrar en Venezuela agentes terroristas, grupos terroritas para atacar objetivos vitales de la economía, objetivos militares […] Donde ustedes vean un grupo raro o un bicho raro alerten, porque ese bicho raro pudiera [sic] ser uno de los bichos raros que nos mandaron de Colombia o de los Estados Unidos.”

“Colombia and the United States want to impose their terrorism on Venezuela. They are trying to infiltrate terrorists and terrorist groups into Venezuela to attack our vital economic objectives, military objectives […] If you see a strange group or a weird person, you have to call them out, because that stranger could be one of them, sent by Colombia or the United States.” – Nicolás Maduro on Twitter on February 28. Maduro did not present any evidence to back his claims.

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