#AlertaVenezuela: October 20, 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.

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Suspicious Facebook assets amplified YouTube channel spreading misleading claims against the Maduro regime

Videos reporting on Venezuela and posted by Colombian YouTube channel Noticias Mundiales Al Día outperformed other videos and YouTube channels – including that belonging to news outlets covering Venezuela – on social media. Facebook assets showing signs of inauthentic behavior published the most engaged-with posts sharing links to Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s videos that promoted content against the Maduro regime and that amplified Juan Guaidó’s call for public protests.

According to a search using social media listening tool BuzzSumo and including, among others, the keywords “Venezuela,” “Venezuelans,” and “Maduro,” Noticias Mundiales Al Día amassed the most engagement on social media between September 19 and October 19, 2020. The most engaged-with video, posted on September 27, garnered 180,703 views and 7,574 interactions on social media, of which 7,551 interactions occurred on Facebook.

Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s video (orange box) was the most engaged-with Spanish-language video on social media covering Venezuela between September 19 and October 19. (Source: DFRLab via BuzzSumo)

In the September 27 video, a presenter claimed massive protests had taken place in Caracas and supported those claims by citing an article in Spanish newspaper El País published the day prior, on September 26. In its article, El País reported that protests across Venezuela increased from 748 in August to almost 1,200 in September. According to El País, most of the protests occurred in inland cities where the demonstrators demanded improved access to public services. Although El País described the situation in Caracas as “there has been no days like the ones seen inland,” Noticias Mundiales Al Día claimed demonstrators “were prepared to get into [presidential palace of] Miraflores.”

The video also showed a clip of Donald Trump’s speech addressing veterans of the Bay of Pigs Bay of Pigs invasion on September 23, 2020, in which Trump referred to Venezuela saying the Western Hemisphere will be free “soon.” Following Trump’s statement, a Noticias Mundiales Al Día presenter suggested that Trump had referred to protests taking place that day – September 27 – in Caracas. However, two articles by CNN en Español and Deutsche Welle in Spanish published on September 28 registered “merely” cacerolazos – peaceful protests involving hitting a casserole dish or pan – and no massive street protests in Caracas between September 24 and 28.

The DFRLab analyzed 1,778 public posts sharing Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s video using the social media tool CrowdTangle. The first Facebook asset to publish the September 27 Noticias Mundiales Al Día video was a personal account that shared it, posting it eight times to eight different Facebook groups within a four-minute period. This batch posting across different assets in a condensed time period is one indicator of inauthentic activity. Moreover, the Facebook account posted on Facebook groups connected to Colombia and Venezuela, and all of them garnered a total of 959 interactions, which is almost 54 percent of the 1,778 total engagements gathered in public Facebook posts.

The same account was the first asset to post Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s September 27 video to Facebook – indeed, it published the first eight public posts (top) all in a condensed time period of four minutes. The first post appeared on the Facebook group “Liberación de venezuelaaa” (“Venezuela’s liberation”) (orange box) at 10:05 p.m. (red box), and the eighth was posted to “Imperio Uribista” (“Uribista empire”) (blue boxes) at 10:09 p.m. (Source: DFRLab via CrowdTangle, top; Liberación de venezuelaaa/archive, center; Imperio Uribista/archive, bottom)

Noticias Mundiales Al Día published 58 videos between September 19 and October 19. An analysis of the Facebook groups sharing the second most engaged-with video, posted on October 4, also showed signs of inauthentic behavior. In the video, the presenter rephrased and reinterpreted two articles from Argentinian news outlet Infobae originally published on September 27and October 3, respectively. In the first article, the reporter described Guaidó’s request that Venezuelans keep up their street protests against the Maduro regime, while the second article claimed Maduro would use Venezuelans as “guinea pigs” during the Russian vaccine trials in the country.

The most engaged-with video (orange box) garnered 180,703 views and 7,574 interactions on social media. The second video (green box) with most of the engagements gathered 4,549 interactions, of which 4,527 occurred on Facebook. This video, posted on October 4, amassed 129,500 views. (Source: BuzzSumo)

Facebook personal accounts posted the video in two groups impersonating international and Venezuelan TV broadcasters CNN en Español and RCTVAccording to their websites, both CNN en Español and RCTV have verified Facebook pages but no associated Facebook groups. The suspicious group CNN en Español is managed by the Facebook page D’ Todo Un Poco, for which its supposed owner promotes himself as “real estate agent.”

As the DFRLab previously analyzed on other YouTube channels distorting news articles and Facebook assets impersonating media outlets to amplify anti-Maduro claims, Noticias Mundiales Al Día’s behavior on social media could be motivated by both ad revenue and influencing political discourse. The two videos (of September 28 and October 4) had their ads turned on for content that attacked the Maduro regime. Moreover, Cazadores de Fake Newsanalyzed Noticias Mundiales Al Día, along with 19 other YouTube channels on February 15, 2020, and identified that all of the channels used headlines as a means of generating clickthrough revenue and posted “misleading content.”

Talk of the Country

In the Media

On October 19, U.S. online news oultet Politico published “Biden the ‘Socialist’ vs. Trump the ‘Caudillo’: The Battle for the Venezuelan Vote.” The article discussed the fight for Venezuelan-American votes in Florida between presidential candidate Joe Biden and Trump. Politico described an “increasingly powerful political community appears to be coalescing behind Trump” in part because the U.S. President recognized Guaidó “as the rightful president of Venezuela” in January 2019. According to Politico, most of the Venezuelan voters in Florida that are “fans” of Trump follow his narrative that the Democratic Party is aligned with socialism in the United States. Politicofound that Biden’s strategy is to describe Trump as an authoritarian similar to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Politico said that accounts supporting Trump and Biden focusing on Venezuelans in Florida have been promoting misleading claims and conspiracies against the rival candidate. Political strategists focusing on Florida interviewed by Politico said that Cuban voters in Florida “have voted reliably for Republicans” and their “voting pattern” could be adopted by the Venezuelan voting population that also has lived “under leftist totalitarian regimes.” According to a search using CrowdTangle, Politico’s article garnered 1,501 interactions on Twitter and 981 on Facebook.

In Venezuela on October 19, independent website Tal Cual published, “Expresidente Manuel Zelaya vino a Venezuela a participar en ensayos de ‘vacuna rusa’” (“Former President Manuel Zelaya came to Venezuela to participate in ‘Russian vaccine’ trials”). In its article, Tal Cual quoted Maduro’s announcement that former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had arrived in Venezuela on October 18 to participate in the country’s medical trials for Sputnik V, a largely untested COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia. Zelaya, who was ousted as Honduran president on June 28, 2009, has been a frequent defender of the “Bolivarian revolution” and the Maduro regime in the region. Tal Cual outlined many statements on Sputnik V given by high-ranking Maduro regime officials since the Kremlin delivered the vaccine to the country on October 2. According to Tal Cual, Maduro has described the massive vaccination campaign in Venezuela as a “historic milestone,” stating that medical personnel, followed by teachers and the elderly, would be the first to be vaccinated. Tal Cual also quoted Venezuelan infectious disease specialist Julio Castro, who warned that the vaccine application “is not the solution to change the course of the pandemic at this time.”

On Social Media

The hashtag #EvoEsPueblo (“Evo is the people”) trended on Venezuelan Twitter on October 19, when two independent surveys showed Luis Alberto Arce as the winner of the Bolivian presidential elections on October 18. Bolivian electoral authorities had not yet confirmed the total number of votes at the time of writing, but a quick count pointed toward a significant Arce victory, which led Arce’s main rival, former President of Bolivia (2003-2005) Carlos Mesa, to concede the results. Arce was supported by self-exiled former President Evo Morales. On Twitter, #EvoEsPueblo was used mostly by accounts with locations set to Argentina and Venezuela, with 3,666 and 2,915 mentions, respectively. Morales followed the electoral process from Argentina, where he received political asylum in 2019. Moreover, the Maduro regime and its supporters in Venezuela have been among the closest allies of Morales in Latin America. Twitter accounts for media outlets and organizations aligned with the Maduro regime, such as Telesur and Maduro’s Ministry of Communications and Information, were among the most influential accounts using #EvoEsPueblo.

Official Statements

El régimen de Maduro lleva años imponiendo reglas caprichosas y autoritarias bajo total opacidad. La ‘ley antibloqueo’ pretende darle una fachada de legalidad a estos abusos.”

“The Maduro regime has been imposing capricious and authoritarian rules for years under total opacity. The ‘anti-blockade law’ aims to give a facade of legality to these abuses.”

– José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch, on Twitter on October 14, 2020. Vivanco also posted a screencap of the anti-blockade law’s first page that the Maduro regime approved on October 8, 2020. The law is intended to help the regime avoid the economic sanctions imposed by other countries against Maduro and his allies.

Llegará la hora en que pagues por todo el daño que has causado a los pueblos de nuestra América Latina y el Caribe con tu servilismo cipayo y genuflexo de Washington! Hay sangre del pueblo boliviano en tus manos, del mismo que hoy emergió para defender la paz y la democracia!”

“The time will come when you pay for all the damage you have caused to the people of our Latin America and the Caribbean with your sepoy and slavish servility to Washington! The blood of the Bolivian people is on your hands, from the same people that emerged today to defend peace and democracy!”

– Delcy Rodríguez, Maduro’s vice president, on Twitter on October 19. Rodríguez quoted a tweet of the Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro, who congratulated Arce after the Bolivian presidential elections.

Our Team In The News

The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center’s policy brief on the influence of Hezbollah in Venezuela, released on October 8, has continued to receive coverage, appearing this week in Voice of AmericaPanAm PostADN CubaLa Gran Epoca, Mexico’s Enlace Judio, and Venezuela’s El NacionalLa Patilla, and Alberto News.

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