#RegionalElections2021: Twitter is protesting, not voting

#RegionalElections2021: Twitter is protesting, not voting

Published on 01 Dec 2021

Venezuelan civil society had an almost null participation in the digital conversation about the 21N elections.

On November 21, regional and municipal elections were held in Venezuela; according to the first bulletin issued by the National Electoral Council (CNE), the ruling party obtained 20 governorships and the Mayor’s Office of the Libertador municipality (Caracas), while the opposition obtained 3 governorships. In the State of Barinas the totalization of votes was not completed due to the loss of three electoral records and, after a ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice, the electoral process will be repeated in this entity in January 2022. The opposition candidate Freddy Superlano, who has been protesting since November 21 due to the lack of results that could award him the governorship, was also disqualified.


In ProBox we are dedicated to analyze the socio-political conversation in Twitter trends in Venezuela and Latin America, determining what percentage of this conversation has been made by real users and how much of this was manipulated by possible automated accounts or bots; despite the fact that officially the electoral campaign began on October 28, in our monitoring we registered the first hashtag linked to the elections in February 2021.


From then until November 22, 2021, one day after the election, we registered 103 electoral trends vs. 1,553 socio-political trends related to other topics on Twitter in Venezuela.


Our trends observatory recorded that only 2 electoral trends promoted by civil society were positioned from February until the day after the election. The second bulletin issued by the CNE reflected that electoral abstention on 21N was 57.74% nationwide.


THE ROLE OF SOCIAL NETWORKS AND THE RETURN OF INTERNATIONAL OBSERVATION


The new National Electoral Council (CNE) appointed by the National Assembly elected in 2020 modified the regulations of electoral campaigns, including also digital platforms, urging candidates to comply in the digital space with the same criteria that apply in traditional campaigns according to the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (Lopre).


This means that in social networks and the internet in general, state entities and public officials cannot promote specific candidacies or parties; however, in this research we evidenced how the regime used state channels and funds to promote digital propaganda for the PSUV and the Gran Polo Patriotico (GPP).


In addition, after 15 years, an Electoral Observation Mission of the European Union (MOE-UE) returned to the country to verify the conditions and development of the elections. On November 23, Isabel Santos, head of this Mission, presented the preliminary report in which she highlighted several flaws in the process, including the favoritism of the ruling party, as well as the distrust of the citizens in the traditional media and the increasing use of digital media due to censorship. This caused both Nicolás Maduro and other members of his cabinet to dismiss the report, even labeling the European Mission as “enemies and spies”.


CIVIL SOCIETY AND ITS MINIMAL PARTICIPATION IN THE ELECTION


Between January 01 and November 28, 2021, we registered 344 trends driven by Venezuelan civil society on Twitter and only 2 made reference to the elections. The first one was positioned on February 3, #TodaVzlaEligeCNE (around 1,650 tweets), alluding to the announcement of the National Assembly on the formation of the Nominations Committee to elect the new authorities of the CNE. The second one driven on August 09 with approximately 4,700 tweets, #SeEstánMatando, warning about reports of clashes, discontent and irregularities presented in the PSUV primary elections.


The other 342 protest tags driven by Venezuelan civil society do not talk about the elections, in fact, the main reason for digital protests were human rights violations (116 trends), followed by economic reasons (74 trends), service failures (43 trends) and health issues, especially about the pandemic (42 trends).


One of the tags with the highest number of messages promoted by civil society in the year was #DejenEntrarLaVacuna, on March 24 with around 63,100 tweets, demanding access to vaccines and a clear vaccination plan in the face of the regime’s reiteration of prohibiting the entry of the AstraZeneca vaccine into the country, which would be sent through the COVAX mechanism. At least 90.37% of these messages were made by real users.


According to the trending topics that managed to position themselves about the elections in Venezuela, we have no evidence of the majority of civil society getting involved in the digital political debate; it seems that there was no connection between the electoral campaign and the link between citizens and it, who were focused on organizing themselves through Twitter as a window of expression for digital activism, online social protest and the demand of their rights through hashtags.


In fact, the most repeated hashtag by civil society was #SinLuz, positioned at least 26 times reporting failures in the electric service throughout the national territory. On average, 97.13% of the messages were made by real users, being one of the most organic trends registered during the year.


ANONYMOUS NETWORKS TRIED TO MANIPULATE PUBLIC OPINION ON TWITTER


According to our records, the Officialism promoted the largest number of electoral trends and tweets, ignoring CNE regulations on the use of public resources to favor a party and breaking Twitter rules by using state entities to promote its discourse on social networks. The pro-government tendencies generated 91.6% of the messages about the elections on Twitter.


We identified that the second actor with the highest number of electoral tags positioned as a trend in Venezuela were the Anonymous Networks: these networks are groups of users without verifiable identity, coordinated among themselves, who are dedicated to defame democratic opposition leaders, misinform about events in the country and carry out electoral and even commercial propaganda in the Venezuelan socio-political conversation on Twitter. They promoted 18 electoral trends and around 34,611 tweets, of which on average 29.89% were made by possible bots or fake accounts.


09 of these trends were dedicated to promote Leocenis García, founder of the political movement Prociudadanos, candidate for Mayor of the Libertador Municipality; however, on November 12 he declined his candidacy in favor of Tomás Guanipa, candidate of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD).


The rest of the electoral trends promoted by these networks promoted propaganda in favor of PSUV candidates (#JehysonPorMerida), simulated support to the MUD (#VotoMUD21N), sought to encourage voting (#VotemosTodos21N), defamed the opposition candidate for the governorship of Miranda, David Uzcátegui (#UzcateguiDivisionista) and supported Javier Bertucci, current deputy of the National Assembly who aspired to the governorship of the state of Carabobo for the political party El Cambio (#BertucciEsUnidad).


These networks of “users” coordinated among themselves delete their messages once the hashtag they wish to promote is positioned, so as not to leave a public record of this activity; which makes it difficult to obtain the necessary data for the measurement of inorganicity and approximate tweets, violating Twitter’s policy regarding spam and manipulation which states that “you may not use Twitter services for the purpose of artificially amplifying or suppressing information, nor carry out actions that manipulate or hinder users’ experience on Twitter”.





In addition to violating Twitter’s usage policies, the deletion of their messages validates their inauthentic behavior and evidences the organization behind them.


This demonstrates how while the digital social protest of citizens for their rights is the topic with the largest number of real users participating in it, there are also conversations on social networks that are created artificially, with the intention of manipulating public opinion through false trends on Twitter.


For this reason we always remember: not all the massive content is real.

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