#AlertaVenezuela: November 12, 2019

#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: Maduro claims there was a coup in Bolivia, while Guaidó supports Morales’s resignation

The Maduro regime reacted to the resignation of one of its long-time allies, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, by showing support and denouncing what it referred to as “a coup.” After more than two weeks of protests in the country following claims of fraud in the October 20 election, Morales resigned on November 10. Because the resignation occurred after the heads of the Bolivian armed forces and national police called on Morales to step down, Morales himself as well as Nicolás Maduro and other left-wing world leaders described the event as “a coup.”

On November 10, Maduro tweeted (archive), translated from Spanish: “We strongly condemn the coup d’état against our brother Evo Morales. The social and political movements in the world declare us mobilized to demand the maintenance of the life of Bolivian original peoples that are victims of racism.”

According to social listening platform Sysomos, tweets from left-wing leaders, including Maduro, who called the resignation a “coup” were more popular than tweets from world leaders celebrating Morales’s ousting. Some of the most retweeted posts about what happened in Bolivia originated from Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner (archive), Spain’s Pablo Iglesias (archive), and the United Kingdom’s Jeremy Corbyn (archive). In the most retweeted list, the only leader supporting the ousting was Juan Guaidó, who tweeted (archive): “Breeze? What is happening is a democratic hurricane in Latin America. Long life to Bolivia, the liberator’s favorite daughter.” His post referred to an earlier comment made by Venezuela’s second-in-command Diosdado Cabello, who called recent protests in Latin America a “Bolivarian breeze.”

Among the most used hashtags on Twitter, the majority was supporting Morales. Two of them were pushed by the Maduro regime. #EvoElMundoEstaContigo (“Evo, the world is with you”) had already received 72,000 mentions between November 10 and November 11 and was amplified most successfully by Maduro (archive) and Telesur correspondent @Marco_Teruggi (archive). More than half of the geotagged mentions of the hashtag came from Venezuelan accounts. The second hashtag, #RespaldoTotalAEvo (“Total support for Evo”), had 93,000 mentions, 90 percent coming from Venezuela, in the same time period. #RespaldoTotalAEvo was the “hashtag of the day” of the Ministry of Communications (archive) account, and it was also amplified by @Marco_Teruggi (archive) and Telesur’s official account (archive).

Finally, Telesur — a multi-state funded Latin American broadcaster launched by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez — followed the regime and classified the resignation as “a coup,” with headlines such as “Police repress protests against coup d’état in Bolivia.” Mainstream media outlets from around the world such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe GuardianBBC, and El País did not use the word “coup” to describe Morales’s resignation until November 11. 


In non-Venezuelan press, the article mentioning the country that received the most engagement on social media was published by a blog hosted by the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo. The blog’s headline was “Dedo de Lula no óleo da Venezuela” (“Lula has his hands on Venezuelan oil”). The outlet published the story after authorities in Brazil discovered that oil that has been washing up the country’s beaches is Venezuelan but had been carried by a Greek vessel. The blog claimed that the tanker belongs to a company involved with former left-wing Brazilian President Lula. The blog received 205,500 engagements on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, the main amplifiers were pages – such as “Pixuleco” and “Brasil Conservador” – supporting current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. 

In Venezuela, the piece that received the most engagement was a Periscope live transmission posted by Maduro of his appearance on the TV show “Venezolana de Television,” a state-run TV broadcast. The show focused on the country’s cryptocurrency experiment and received 4,900 engagements, mostly coming from Maduro’s Twitter account. The leader has 3.7 million followers on Twitter.


The most engaged with Facebook post (archive) mentioning Venezuela this week was posted by Brazilian businessman Luciano Hang, a vocal Bolsonaro supporter. He called on his fellow partisans to attend a protest on November 9 against a decision from the country’s Supreme Court that resulted in the release of Brazil’s former president Lula, who served over a year of a twelve-year sentence for corruption charges. Hang wrote: “Do you want Brazil to become a Venezuela, an Argentina? Do you want to leave the country? We can’t stand still watching wrong things happen. For your family, your kids, for you, and for Brazil, go to the streets this Saturday.” The post garnered 56,000 reactions and around 15,000 shares. 


#JuanitoAlimañaRastrojo (“Little Juan Rastrojo vermin”)

The hashtag was first posted by Diosdado Cabello (archive), president of the Constituent National Assembly and Maduro’s second-in-command, at the beginning of his show “Con el mazo dando” (“Given with the hammer”) on November 6, 2019. #JuanitoAlimañaRastrojo, which disparagingly attacked Guaidó’s name, was used 18,800 times and reached the trending topics in Venezuela the same day after the first publication. Cabello’s post stated there are connections between Colombian paramilitaries and Guaidó. Rastrojo is the name of a Colombian paramilitary group.

On September 12, pictures of Guaidó with leaders from paramlitary gang Rastrojo emerged online. Venezuelan and Colombian press reported that the photos were taken on February 22, when Guaidó crossed the border and appeared in Colombia for the attempted delivery of humanitarian aid into Venezuela. According to Guaidó, he took selfies with many people that day and did not know that the men in the photos were paramilitaries.

Cabello’s tweet was also the most retweeted post using the hashtag, reaching 1,492 retweets. It was amplified by verified accounts supporting Maduro’s regime, such as @PartidoPSUV (archive), the official account of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela; @Mippcivzla (archive), the official account for the Communication Ministry; and @RoqueValero (archive), a Venezuelan singer, actor, and politician with more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter.

DFRLab analysis suggested that automated accounts were involved in the conversation. In particular, the accounts @AlexisBravo67 and @jesusgu89068865 were the most active accounts to retweet posts using the hashtag, each posting 251 and 238 tweets, respectively. Both accounts were recently created (less than three months old) and – according to Twitonomy, an online tool that analyzes Twitter profiles — the account @AlexisBravo67 has an average of 636 tweets per day, while @jesusgu89068865 an average of 156 tweets. In addition to a high volume of posting such as this, among other things, the DFRLab considers that alphanumerical handles – which these accounts also featured — to be an indicator of automation.


“Los golpistas que asaltaron mi casa y la de mi hermana, incendiaron domicilios, amenazaron de muerte a ministros y sus hijos y vejaron a una alcaldesa, ahora mienten y tratan de culparnos del caos y la violencia que ellos han provocado. Bolivia y el mundo son testigos del golpe.” — Evo Morales

“The coup mongers who attacked my house and my sister’s, threatened ministers and their children with death, and attacked a mayor, now lie and try to blame us for the chaos and the violence they have provoked. Bolivia and the world are witness to the coup.” — Evo Morales, in a tweet posted (archive) on November 11. 

“No podemos hablar hoy en Venezuela de que en Bolivia hay un golpe de Estado, hubo demostración de un fraude. Ahí hay un pueblo exigiendo, exigencias similares a las de Venezuela, elecciones libres.” — Juan Guaidó

“We can’t say today, in Venezuela, that there was a coup d’état in Bolivia. There was evidence of fraud. There is a people making similar demands to those made in Venezuela: free elections.” — Juan Guaidó, speaking to unions in Venezuela on November 11. 

“No se equivoquen, no saquen cálculo falsos. Si se comen la luz actuaremos apegados a la Constitución, de manera firme y total para defender el derecho a la paz, la convivencia, la democracia y la felicidad del pueblo… no se equivoquen miren que este golpe de Estado nos eleva aún más la fortaleza combative.” — Nicolás Maduro

“Don’t make a mistake, don’t make false calculations. If you cross the line, we will act according to the Constitution, in a firm and complete way to support the right to peace, coexistence, democracy, and people’s happiness… don’t make a mistake, this coup d’état increases our combative strength even further.” — Nicolás Maduro, in a message to opponents on November 10. 


Against all odds, fact-checking is flourishing in VenezuelaPoynter

Written by Cristina Tardáguila, associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network, this article explains how fact-checkers are working in Venezuela. “The Internet in Venezuela comes as fast as it goes. There are no reliable public databases available. And people are getting quite used to days without electricity. But against all odds, a generation of young fact-checkers is flourishing in Caracas.” 

Tasa de desempleo del INE es inconsistente con importante teoría económica (“INE unemployment rate is inconsistent with important economic theory”), Efecto Cocuyo

This article, published by independent Venezuelan outlet Efecto Cocuyo, claims that the unemployment rate recently published by Venezuela’s Instituto Nacional de Estadística (the Venezuelan Institute of Statistics) is inconsistent with patterns of unemployment backed by proven macroeconomic theories, including Okun’s Law. The article is an example of the difficulties fact-checkers face in Venezuela, including a lack of access to reliable data that can verify the regime’s claims.


DFRLab’s and ACLatAm’s research about protests in Chile was featured in the Spanish newspaper ABC under the headline, translated from Spanish, “How Venezuelan accounts self-described as chavistas encourage protests in Chile.” The results were also picked up by Venezuelan outlet La Patilla.

Maria Fernanda Pérez Argüello, associate director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, appeared on Voice of America’s “Foro Interamericano” to discuss the state of corruption in Venezuela and in Latin America among hotspots of political turmoil in the region.

Diego Area, associate director for Venezuela at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, spoke in New York City about the events that gave rise to the crisis in Venezuela. His comments were covered by YU News


Venezuelan “chavista” accounts take an interest in Chilean protests

Nearly 20 percent of Venezuela-based accounts tweeting about the ongoing protests in Chile self-identify as “chavistas,” supporters of the late Venezuelan president Chávez and Maduro, his successor. The DFRLab analyzed 1.1 million tweets about protests in Chile, posted between October 16 and October 25, 2019, in the first attempt to determine empirically whether the Maduro regime’s digital militias are attempting to influence the online discussion about Chile. 

Is this granny a bot? The challenges of detecting automation

A Brazilian account that mixes bot-like and human-like features illustrates the difficulty in determining whether an account is automated.

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