#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.
Pro-Maduro accounts promoted hashtags to deepen split within opposition regarding parliamentary elections
Accounts aligned with the Maduro regime pushed #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido (More Capriles, less Guaidó) to trend as a means of influencing the Twitter conversation after Henrique Capriles and Juan Guaidó traded accusations around the upcoming parliamentary elections. #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido trended on September 3 and September 4, however, most of the mentions (tweets, retweets, and replies) have seemingly since been deleted or removed.
The hashtag #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido appeared on September 3, after Guaidó, who is recognized by over 50 countries as interim president of Venezuela, claimed former presidential candidate Capriles had met with Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Maduro regime ally. Guaidó claimed that Capriles and Çavuşoğlu “negotiated” on the Venezuela parliamentary elections, which the Maduro regime has scheduled for December 6. Capriles responded by posting clips of an earlier Periscope broadcast to his Twitter account on September 2. In one of the videos, Capriles acknowledged that he had a call with Çavuşoğlu but denied that it was to negotiate, as Guaidó claimed. On September 6, Capriles posted a press release amidst “a context of disinformation” to confirm his conditions to participate in the parliamentary elections.
A DFRLab search using social media listening tool Brandwatch showed that the hashtag #Capriles – that also trended on Twitter around the same time – amassed more mentions (701) overall than #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido (381 mentions) on September 3. However, also on September 3, #Capriles trended for 1 hour 45 minutes while #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido trended for 3 hours and 40 minutes, according to a search using Trendinalia. This suggests #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido likely became popular and reached the trending list by garnering more mentions that were not recovered by Brandwatch over a longer period than #Capriles on September 3.
In addition to the number of mentions and the period over which #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido trended, the DFRLab found suspicious accounts that often delete their posts or change usernames after using a hashtag that trended. For instance, the accounts that first tweeted the hashtag on September 3 were connected to @niTanTukky (through follows, frequent retweets, etc.), which states in its profile that its operator works to promote hashtags to trend in Venezuela and which has posted that the Maduro regime is a client as well. Moreover, @niTanTukky was among the accounts using hashtags against Guaidó between January 4 and February 3, 2020. @niTanTukky’s posts using the hashtags in this analysis have apparently since been deleted.
According to a DFRLab Brandwatch query, @ftenrique08 was the first account to use #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido on September 3, when it replied to a tweet –that has since been deleted or removed – by @MeComoElDonut_. Both accounts follow @niTanTukky or have interacted with it on Twitter.
Accounts that used #MasCaprilesMenosGuaidó also used hashtags supporting Maduro. According to a query using social media listening tool Meltwater Explore, hashtags promoted by the Maduro regime, such as #ClaseObreraProductiva (“Productive Worker Class”) and #ModoActivo (“Active Mode”), appeared among the most used by pro-Maduro accounts alongside #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido.
A post by the account @LGrande2020 was the most retweeted to use #MasCaprilesMenosGuaido with 34 retweets. @LGrande2020, which describes itself in its Twitter bio as “chavista,” “anti-imperialist,” and as the owner of two previously suspended accounts, posted that Guaidó’s “virtual government” is a fraud.
Talk of the Country
In the Media
On September 6, U.S. media outlet The New York Times published “Venezuela’s Opposition Splits Over Taking Part in Coming Elections.” The article described how Venezuelan opposition leaders Capriles and National Assembly representative Stalin González broke with “an opposition boycott of the coming congressional elections, fracturing an already strained alliance.” According to The New York Times, Capriles and González have been echoed by Venezuela’s Catholic Church and the nation’s biggest business association, which underlined “the depth of the discontent in the opposition alliance.” The New York Times said Maduro is the “biggest winner” from the opposition’s split and the participation of opposition leaders in the elections would portray the vote as democratic and let Maduro “lobby the international community to relax economic sanctions.” Moreover, The New York Times described Capriles and González political shift as threatening to fracture the alliance of over 50 countries that recognizes Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela. The New York Times explained that, while the U.S. government has “unequivocally” sided with Guaidó, the European Union has “cautiously encouraged Capriles’ negotiations.”
In Venezuela on September 2, independent website Armando.info published “En estos puntos rojos tu celular es un libro abierto” (“Your cellphone is an open book in these red spots”). Armando.info published the research Fake Antenna Detection Project –or FADe Project in English – by South Lighthouse, an organization dedicated to the research and development of technologies. According to Armando.info’sreadout, at least 80 “irregular” antennas were identified in Caracas, at its airports, and on Venezuela’s Colombian border between March and May 2019. The FADe Project registered IMSI Catchers – also known as Stingrays or Triggerfish – which consist of portable antennas that can read text messages, listen to calls, or locate the user of a cellphone within a radius of 800 meters. Armando.info said the FADe Project found 26 “suspicious” antennas in El Valle-Coche highway, one of the “most important” entrances into Caracas from the states of Miranda, Aragua, and Carabobo. Armando.info found that Hugo Chávez bought security equipment from U.S. company Phoenix Worldwide Industries that included IMSI Catchers between 2000 and 2004. Armando.info could not find a similar contract by Maduro.
On Social Media
The hashtag #DiosdadoPaLaAsamblea (“Diosdado for Assembly”) trended on Twitter on September 7. The first account that used #DiosdadoPaLaAsamblea was @CrazyHourse, which set “Argentina” as its user name and which has also retweeted other posts by the Maduro regime. @nataliaval7777 garnered the most retweets for a post using the hashtag that focused on the annual saint’s day festivities around the Virgin of the Valley. The second most retweeted post belong to the account @Elias_Cabeza, which posted that Cabello would give “unconditional support” to those most in need. @nataliaval7777 and @Elias_Cabeza’s posts garnered 64 and 53 retweets, respectively. Diosdado Cabello, Maduro’s second-in-command and president of Nicolás Maduro’s Constituent National Assembly, has pointed out that gaining control of the National Assembly is the most important objective of the Maduro regime in the parliamentary elections set to take place on December 6.
Maduro’s latest ploy to make upcoming elections appear ‘free and fair’ is to conditionally release some political prisoners who were unjustly jailed in the first place. The only solution to the crisis in Venezuela are [sic] actual free and fair elections, not this political farce”
– Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State, on Twitter on September 3, 2020.
Los análisis indican que el régimen de Maduro es la organización criminal más peligrosa de la región. Espero que los rectores del CNE entiendan que su complicidad con la tiranía y el fraude en proceso tendrá consecuencias.”
“Analyses indicate that the Maduro regime is the most dangerous criminal organization in the region. I hope that the CNE [Consejo Nacional Electoral] members understand their complicity with the tyranny and ongoing fraud will have consequences.”
– Iván Simonovis, Guaidó’s Security Commissioner, on Twitter on September 4.
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