#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.
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TOP STORY: Nearly 20 percent of Venezuela-based accounts tweeting about protests in Chile self-identify as chavistas
Nicolás Maduro has been accused of being an instigator behind social unrest in Latin American countries, including in Chile and Ecuador. Twitter accounts operating from Venezuela have a history of attempting to influence domestic events in Catalonia and in the United States. The DFRLab analyzed 1.1 million tweets about protests in Chile, posted between October 16 and October 25, 2019, to measure the possibility of involvement of the Maduro regime’s digital militias in the country.
To isolate those tweets that were Venezuelan in origin and propagating the Maduro regime’s messaging on the Chilean protests, the DFRLab first segregated those accounts that had some form of location identifier — comprising 201,840 accounts within the overall set of 421,868 accounts. This subset was in turn segregated by country, isolating those accounts with Venezuela as a location (24,764 of the 201,840), and then by those that self-identified as “chavista” (2,862 of the 24,764 Venezuela-based accounts). On the latter, to determine whether an account was “chavista,” the DFRLab searched for the following key words in the accounts’ profile descriptions: “chávez,” “chavez,” “chavismo,” “chavista,” “maduro,” “bolívar,” “bolivar,” “psuv,” “bolivariana,” “bolivariano,” “diosdado,” and “@NoticiasTLA.”
In terms of tweets, the 2,862 Venezuelan “chavista” accounts posted 20,443 of the approximately 1.1 million total in the full dataset, or 1.86 percent. Of just the Venezuela-based accounts tweeting, however, they comprised 19.2 percent of the overall activity, or 20,443 out of 106,626 tweets.
ActualidadRT, the Spanish-language affiliate of the Kremlin-backed outlet; Marco_Teruggi, Venezuela correspondent for Telesur; and teleSURtv, a multi-state funded Latin American broadcaster launched by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, were among the most retweeted accounts. This finding echoes the earlier Catalonia-focused Venezuelan operation, which shared Russian state media links as its main strategy to influence the quasi-autonomous region’s independence referendum in 2017. @juancardenasr26 (archive), a pro-Maduro regime account with a profile picture featuring Chávez, was the most prolific account, with an average of 214 tweets per day, but showed no signs of automation.
The most common hashtags mentioned by Venezuela-based users were “#ChileResiste” (Chile Resists), “#Protestas” (“Protests”), and “#ChileSeCansó” (“Chile got tired”). The most discussed topics were “Estado de emergencia en Santiago de Chile” (“State of emergency in Santiago, Chile”), “Manifestaciones estudiantiles” (“Student demonstrations”), “Aumento en las tarifas del metro” (“The increase in metro fares”), and “Foro de São Paulo” (“São Paulo Forum,” a left-wing regional organization mentioned by Maduro in a comment on the protests).
The DFRLab did not find any indication of widespread bot usage among the accounts analyzed. Also, the accounts that described themselves as “chavista” did not necessarily post with an intent to influence Chile’s domestic debate, as the unrest in the country was discussed by the political class in Venezuela and might have become the source of legitimate popular attention in Venezuela.
TALK OF THE COUNTRY
The article published by non-Venezuelan media about Venezuela that received the most engagement was “El Salvador’s government orders the expulsion of Venezuela’s diplomatic forces,” published by Germany’s Deutsche Welle. The article states that, on November 2, 2019, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele gave Maduro regime diplomats 48 hours to leave the country and recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. The article garnered 88,200 engagements. The majority of the interactions were likes and “loves” on a post on President Bukele’s official page on Facebook.
The article published by a Venezuelan website that received the most engagement on social media was “Juan Guaidó guarantees Maduro will leave once and for all this year, that is a fact,” by the blog InfoVenezuela. The video piece was based on an article originally published by the independent website El Pitazo on May 26, when Guaidó stated that Maduro would be gone “once and for all.” The video received renewed attention this week after being published in Facebook groups such as Gremio Docente and Todos con Leopoldo Lopez on October 27, gathering 14,600 engagements in total. Publications did not state clearly that the video was old and comments on Facebook mostly complained that Guaidó is not moving fast enough.
On Facebook, the post mentioning Venezuela that received the most engagement was the one by Salvadoran President Bukele, which has received more than 70,000 interactions (reactions, shares, and comments) to date. When sharing Deutsche Welle’s article about the expulsion of Maduro regime diplomats from the country, the president wrote that, with this action, the opposition party Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) would lose the office of their last funder. “An ‘embassy’ that brings no benefit to our country, but hundreds of millions of dollars in Venezuelan money for FMLN leaders and the financing of their electoral campaigns.” The leftist FMLN supported the Maduro and Chávez administrations in Venezuela. Bukele, a former member of the FMLN, took office in June 2019 as a member of the center-right Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party.
HASHTAG OF THE WEEK
#VzlaExigeCNElibre (“Venezuela demands a free electoral council”)
#VzlaExigeCNElibre was amplified by Juan Guaidó and his team. On October 29, Venezuela’s National Assembly, which opposes the Maduro regime, started the process to nominate a new council that can call for free elections in the country. The National Assembly does not have the power to call for elections directly but is responsible for nominating candidates to the electoral body empowered to call for them. The hashtag was used 6,166 times and reached the trending topics in the country on October 29. The most retweeted post was written by the account @ALiasMalula (archive) and questioned the feasibility of stopping electoral fraud in the country. The DFRLab analysis showed that this hashtag was most likely organic and found no signs of traffic manipulation.
“Me parece muy importante que se hayan empezado a implementar los acuerdos de la mesa de diálogo nacional, uno de los acuerdos es nombrar un nuevo Consejo Nacional Electoral, que dé las más amplias garantías, como siempre, para las elecciones parlamentarias del año 2020.”
“It is very important that the agreements from the national dialogue [discussions with some minority parties in the traditional opposition] have started to be implemented. One of the agreements aims to appoint a new National Electoral Council, which offers guaranties, as always, related to the 2020 parliamentarian elections.” Nicolás Maduro, reacting to the National Assembly initiative calling for a new National Electoral Council, October 30, 2019. Contrary to what he stated, the National Assembly has called for a new National Electoral Council to call for free [and fair] presidential elections, not only Parliamentary elections.
“El tema de traer pruebas, que las existen, no puede ser más fuerte que las propias declaraciones de Maduro o Diosdado Cabello, que abiertamente dicen que trabajan por desestabilizar la región.”
“The discussion about evidence, which exists, cannot be more relevant than Maduro’s and Cabello’s own declarations that openly declare they work to destabilize the region.” Julio Borges, Presidential Envoy for Foreign Affairs for the Interim Government of Venezuela, in a visit to the United States to bring alleged proof of Venezuela and Cuba’s interference in the ongoing protests in Ecuador and Chile. The evidence, however, was not made public.
WHAT WE ARE READING
The authors interviewed a dozen specialists to understand whether Maduro could be behind recent unrest in Latin America or if he is being used as a scapegoat. “‘I think that what’s happening is mainly the product of national circumstances,’ said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. ‘That doesn’t mean there is no outside agitation. But to put the blame outside is to miss the point that there are fundamental domestic problems that can account for all this unrest.’”
Published by Spanish newspaper El País, this article described how, for the third year, the regime moved official Christmas celebrations to November. The Maduro regime is requiring each ministry to have a party, pay bonuses to civil servants, and spend 11 million EUR on a sufficient quantity of pork for distribution to the population, as pork is a part of the traditional Christmas meal in the country. The article also highlights the regime’s propaganda efforts to put forth an image of normality despite the ongoing crisis in the country.
DFRLab and ACLatAm IN THE NEWS
Earlier this month, Venezuela was elected to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. In his latest op-ed in The Hill, Diego Area, associate director for Venezuela at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, analyzed the country’s ascension to the Human Rights Council and its implications for Maduro and the millions of Venezuelans affected by the ongoing crisis in the country.
The DFRLab used publicly available images of alleged Russian military personnel to place them in space: poolside at a military base in Caracas. The identity of these men remains unknown but outside articles claim that they spoke Russian. Speculation of Russian military presence in Venezuela has been ongoing, but proof remains scarce.
The DFRLab analyzed seven pages removed by Facebook on October 21, 2019, that were identified as part of an operation that originated in Iran and focused on audiences throughout Latin America and the United States. According to Facebook, these assets were working together to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing on the platform. According to the DFRLab’s post, the Facebook Iran-based assets “targeted audiences in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico with messaging critical of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, as well as with a smaller number of posts on domestic politics in Latin America. The range of topics discussed included Saudi Arabia’s attacks against Yemen, U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, Israeli policies toward Palestine, spy drones, and information compiled during the October 2019 protests in Ecuador.”
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