#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-Maduro and pro-Trump Facebook accounts amplified claim that Venezuela interfered in the U.S. election
U.S. President Donald Trump’s false claims that the presidential election was “rigged” have been bolstered by his lawyers who misleadingly suggested that Venezuelan chavistas were behind the “fraud.” Pro-Trump and anti-Maduro Facebook pages were among the accounts that posted the most viewed videos amplifying Trump’s lawyers claims.
Between November 12 and November 17, 2020, Trump posted nine times on Twitter that Dominion Voting Systems, a company that supplies election technology to many municipalities in the United States, is a “Radical Left” company that “deleted” votes for him. Although Twitter flagged all Trump’s posts with the label “This claim about election fraud is disputed,” on Fox News, his lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell fueled the U.S. president’s claims against Dominion Voting Systems. On November 15, Giuliani made a misleading claim connecting Dominion Voting Systems to former Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and “therefore China.” Giuliani said that Dominion Voting Systems sent voting information to Smartmatic, a company that – according to Guiliani – “was founded by Chávez and by Chávez’s two allies, who still own it.”
Since November 7, the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research entities (including the DFRLab) focused on detecting and mitigating attempts to prevent or deter people from voting or to delegitimize election results, debunked the claims of “significant interference” – including a foreign agent – in the voting processes and concluded that “election administration errors happen and do not imply malfeasance.” Similarly, U.S. media outlets Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Washington Post qualified Trump’s and his lawyers’ claims as “false” or “baseless.” The media outlets quoted a press release of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which described the November 3 election as “the most secure in American history.” Moreover, the media outlets showed that Giuliani did not back his claims regarding the Chinese and Venezuelan interference through Smartmatic with evidence. For instance, The Washington Post explained that Giuliani based his claims in a “long-ago corporate connection [of Smartmatic] to Venezuela” that media registered in 2006, and the company confirmed in a press release on November 14, 2020, it does not have “ties to political parties or groups in any country.”
Smartmatic provided election services to Venezuela from 2004 to 2017, when allegations of electoral fraud in the aftermath of the July 30 National Constituent Assembly elections led the company to terminate its operations in the country. Two days after the elections, Antonio Mugica, Smartmatic’s Chief Executive Officer denounced the regime-controlled electoral body for manipulating “at least 1 million votes.”
The conspiracy theory suggesting chavistas manipulated votes for Trump through the election machinery were echoed by some of the most viewed videos on Facebook between November 12 and November 17, according to a search using social media listening tool CrowdTangle. The videos that garnered most of the views were posted by the Facebook pages “Fog City Midge” and “Venezuelalibre” (“Venezuela free”), with 121,125 and 55,459 views, respectively.
The account “Fog City Midge,” which belongs to pro-Trump filmmaker Maggie VandenBergh, posted the most watched video, in which a supposed Venezuelan in the United States falsely claimed that now President-elect Joe Biden won the election using the same “Dominion machines” that Nicolás Maduro allegedly used in Venezuela in 2004. Maduro, however, has only been in power since Chávez’s death – on April 19, 2013 – thus rendering his supposed use of machines in 2004 impossible, despite “Fog City Midge’s” claim.
A separate post by “Venezuelalibre” contained a video of Panamanian YouTube channel Parecen Noticias Extra. The video’s presenter claimed that Venezuela and China interfered in the U.S. election through “Dominion” and that Trump is preparing a military intervention in Venezuela against Maduro as a response to the supposed “fraud.”
“Venezuelalibre” describes itself as a “news & media website” created on May 8, 2019, to “liberate” Venezuela. Recent posts to its Facebook page have shared videos of YouTube channels – such as Parecen Noticias Extra – that share anti-Maduro content. The DFRLab has previously identified these channels as consistently publishing videos announcing U.S. military interventions in Venezuela that ultimately never materialize.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On November 12, ProPublica published “Trump Won Florida After Running a False Ad Tying Biden to Venezuelan Socialists.” The article described how the Trump campaign targeted Latino voters in Florida on social media by running a YouTube ad propagating a false claim against Maduro and Biden. ProPublica mentioned that, although media outlets debunked the Trump campaign’s claims, YouTube did not take the ad down and that it garnered 100,000 views in Florida in the eight days leading up to the election. According to ProPublica, the video targeted Venezuelan, Cuban, and Colombian voters and claimed “that Venezuela’s ruling clique” backed Biden. The article highlighted that the false content “was part of a broader Trump campaign strategy” that allowed Trump to win in Florida by about 375,000 votes, “the largest margin in a presidential election there since 1988.” According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo, ProPublica’s article was the fourth most engaged-with article on social media to mention Venezuela or a number of related search terms between November 10 and November 17, with 39,500 interactions.
In Venezuela on November 16, independent news outlet Efecto Cocuyopublished “Académicos desmienten con datos que la epidemia esté controlada en Venezuela” (“Academics used data to disprove that the epidemic is under control in Venezuela”). The article discussed the findings presented by Venezuelan experts during a virtual forum organized by the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. The experts presented their analysis on the statistics of infected, recovered, and COVID-19 tests during the pandemic in Venezuela between March and November. According to Efecto Cocuyo’s readout, the Maduro regime reports on the pandemic have inconsistencies due to the low rate of testing per million people compared with other Latin American countries. Efecto Cocuyo showed that while Venezuela conducted 4,250 tests per 1 million inhabitants, Peru – the second with the lowest rate – conducted 14,337 tests per 1 million of inhabitants.
On Social Media
The keyword “FAES” (the Spanish acronym for Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales, a unit of Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Police) trended on Twitter between November 16 and November 17. Anti-Maduro accounts and journalists used “FAES” on Twitter to denounce and to report on the supposed kidnapping of Venezuelan farmer Américo Ledezma in the Venezuelan state of Zulia. The accounts that published the first posts on November 15 showed a video apparently recorded by local police officers who asked the FAES officers – who allegedly kidnapped Ledezma – for his liberation. The United Nations reported on September 15, 2020, that FAES was one of the Venezuelan Police units responsible for 59 percent of killings by Maduro’s security forces between 2014 and 2019.
Cuba’s military seizes $ from the remittance process to fund its intervention in Venezuela and repression at home. They take a cut and force Cubans to buy goods at marked-up prices. We encourage people sending remittances to Cuba to use channels that do not benefit the military.”
– Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, on Twitter on November 13, 2020.
El viaje de @drodriven2 a Rusia es para seguir entregando los recursos de Vzla y fortalecer negocios ilegales en el marco de la “Ley Antibloqueo”.Este bodrio inconstitucional permite legitimar capitales y afianzar estructuras del crimen organizado. ¡Es una agenda contra la región!”
“The trip by [Maduro’s Vice President] Delcy Rodríguez to Russia is to continue giving away Venezuela’s resources and strengthen illegal businesses within the framework of the ‘Anti-Blockade Law.’ This unconstitutional mess allows for the legitimization of capital assets and financing structures for organized crime. It is an agenda against the region!”
– Julio Borges, Juan Guaidó’s presidential envoy for foreign affairs, on Twitteron November 12, 2020.
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