#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.
Venezuelan accounts amplified Twitter hashtag to ask Trump to attack Iranian ships
As Iranian ships carrying fuel to Venezuela approached the South American country, Twitter accounts self-identified as based in Venezuela promoted the hashtag #TrumpPlomoContraIrán (“Trump Fire On Iran”) asking the United States to halt the ships and intervene against Maduro. Accounts pushing the hashtag do not support Maduro but also openly criticize Juan Guaidó, advocating instead for a U.S military intervention. The hashtag trended between May 21 and 23, 2020, before the first ship arrived in Venezuela on May 24.
On May 13, Reuters revealed that Iranian ships loaded with fuel set sail to Venezuela, defying U.S. sanctions against both countries. The press agency also revealed that Maduro’s regime tried to import oil, paying with “tons of gold,” as a means of mitigating gas shortages during the coronavirus outbreak due to years of poor maintenance of its oil system infrastructure, corruption, the ongoing economic crisis, and the U.S. sanctions. Iranian-state funded media HispanTV claimed the shipment could be blocked or attacked by U.S. forces in the Caribbean. Two out of the five ships arrived in the Venezuelan coast on May 25, and it is expected that the other three could unload the fuel the next few days.
#TrumpPlomoContraIran was mentioned in 20,893 tweets, retweets, and replies on Twitter by 7,o82 accounts, according to a DFRLab query using the social media listening tool Brandwatch. In addition to requesting that Trump react to the Iranian ships and stop them from reaching Venezuela, accounts using the hashtag claimed, without evidence, that Trump would attack the Maduro regime or that the Iranian ships could deliver nuclear weapons to Maduro. Two pro-Maduro accounts, @lubrio and @jogre8a, also appeared to be the main ones using the hashtag by using it alongside criticism of its premise.
Network analysis with a sample of 10,000 tweets using the hashtag showed that the main communities amplifying the hashtag were neither Maduro nor Guaidó supporters, but rather supporters of a U.S. military intervention to remove Maduro from power. Two communities (blue and green) are more isolated in the map, as they represent pro-Maduro accounts tweeting the hashtag while criticizing it.
Among the accounts using #TrumpPlomoContraIran to criticize Maduro, @isonmayu was the most important. The account, self-described in its Twitter biography as anti-socialist fighting against “Venezuelan criminal dictatorship,” posted a series of tweets asking the United States to intervene against the ships and against Maduro. The most retweeted post by the account garnered 802 retweets and contained a link to an interview in which U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said that “the democratic transition in Venezuela needed the support of the [Venezuelan] army.”
The most prominent actor on the other side of the debate was the pro-Maduro account @lubrio, which used the hashtag to attack accounts promoting the trend. It claimed these accounts stole public money and took advantage of Maduro’s policies in the past but now criticize him. @lubrio describes itself on Twitter as “people’s communicator” and regularly interacts with Maduro regime officials, such as Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, president of Maduro’s constituent national assembly and Maduro’s second in command.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On May 25, The New York Times published “Oil-Starved Venezuela Celebrates Arrival of Tankers From Iran.” The article shows Venezuela and U.S. reactions after the first Iranian oil tanker, the “Fortune,” sailed into Venezuela. According to The New York Times, while Maduro thanked Iran, the U.S. Department of State accused Maduro “of being a ‘criminal organization’ that used illegally obtained gold to purchase fuel from Tehran.” Experts estimated that 1.5 million barrels of fuel carried by the five tankers “could supply the nation with enough gasoline for a few weeks to a month.” The article garnered 3,402 interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) on Facebook, and 1,919 interactions on Twitter, according to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle.
On Venezuela, the independent website El Pitazo published on May 21, “Norberto Bausson: ‘inversión en cisternas alcanzaba para recuperar sistema de agua’” (“Norberto Bausson: ‘instead of invest on water wagons, the investment would be used to recover the water system’”). El Pitazo published an interview with Norberto Bousson, former operational vice president of Hidrocapital, the Venezuelan state water utility in Caracas. According to El Pitazo, Bousson said it is more expensive to buy water wagons than construct an aqueduct. Bousson further elaborated that Maduro’s goal was to use the water wagons to control “who receives water and who’s not” among Venezuelans. El Pitazo also highlights that 80 percent of citizens consider public services (i.e., water, electricity, gas, and telecommunications) to be in “bad” condition, according to a study by Bousson (that is not hyperlinked in the El Pitazo story).
On Social Media
The hashtag #GraciasIran (“Thanks, Iran”) trended on Twitter between May 22-25, having been pushed by pro-Maduro accounts that expressed gratitude to Iran for the fuel shipment. The hashtag shows signs of traffic manipulation, such as each account posting 5.21 times on average and that 10 percent of the most active accounts using #GraciasIran posted 61.7 percent of the total tweets.
Debe saber nuestro pueblo que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos en conchupancia [complicidad] con la oposición terrorista, entreguista, Guadocista de Venezuela ha perseguido durante más de un año todos los barcos, todas las importaciones de insumos para producir en Venezuela la gasolina.”
“Our nation must know that the U.S. government – in complicity with the terrorist opposition, appeaser, Guaidó supporters – has persecuted all the ships, imports of supplies to produce fuel in Venezuela for over a year.” – Nicolás Maduro on VTV broadcast on May 26, 2020.
We want to ask today what is the real aim of the American Navy parade in the Caribbean? Are there more mercenaries ‘on the ground’ in Venezuela? Who is responsible for attacks on Venezuelan critical infrastructure, including electricity networks? We also hope Washington fully realizes the risks of incidents when deploying USS Lassen, USS Preble, and USS Farragut in an area where Iranian oil tankers are involved in legal activity near Venezuela.”
– Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, to the UN Security Council on May 20.
Subscribe to the #AlertaVenezuela newsletter