“Freedom for Saab and jail for those who accuse him,” tweeting troop demands

“Freedom for Saab and jail for those who accuse him,” tweeting troop demands

Published on 09 Feb 2022

Accounts linked to the Radical Officialism positioned the trend #AlexLibreGuaidoPreso talking about Saab's "humanitarian work" and Guaidó's "betrayal of the Homeland".

In the week of January 24-30 in our trends observatory we registered 36 socio-political tags positioned in Venezuela, which generated around 4,116,723 tweets. The main topics of the week were the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the allegations of fuel smuggling, the recall referendum and the continuous campaign of the ruling party demanding the freedom of Álex Saab.

One of the trends was #AlexLibreGuaidoPreso, which in addition to the victimization and defense of businessman Álex Saab detained in the United States on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, was a display of defamations, attacks and insults against interim President Juan Guaidó; where the most repeated content within this was not a message itself, but an image (edited) of this “behind bars”. The hashtag reached approximately 37,693 tweets, driven by a group of users linked to the Venezuelan radical government that is dedicated to position daily trends in favor of Saab and to attack journalists or public figures who refer to the case.

At least 48.28% of the messages in this trend were made by possible automated or fake accounts.

At ProBox we are in charge of analyzing the socio-political conversation on Twitter trends in Venezuela and Latin America, determining what percentage of this conversation has been made by real users and how much of it was manipulated by possible automated accounts or bots, with the intention of influencing public opinion on social networks.

In March 2021 we detected the first trends positioned as a defense to Colombian businessman Álex Saab, arrested in Cape Verde on June 12, 2020 on money laundering charges and subsequently extradited to the United States on October 16, 2021. Between March and December 2021, we recorded 204 trends linked to Álex Saab that totaled around 5,742,516 tweets.

Of the 204 trends, 194 were driven by a network of coordinated users linked to Radical Officialism; these generated 93.26% of the total messages related to this topic.

We were able to identify seven main narratives in the positioned tags:

  1. Victimization for “his help to the people” and his quality of “diplomat”, with 149 trends gathering 73.77% of the total messages, including the promotion of a series about it on YouTube and the creation of the Free Álex Saab Foundation.
  2. Negotiation table in Mexico, is the second most used narrative with 18 trends asking for the incorporation of Saab to the negotiation and reaffirming that talks with the opposition will only be resumed if he is released.
  3. Disinformation about the case and the processes surrounding it, with 15 trends and more than 400,000 messages.
  4. Targeting Cape Verdean officials, mainly against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General with 13 tags, this was the narrative with the highest average number of messages generated by possible automated accounts (62.22%).
  5. Attack on journalists who have exposed the case, mainly against Roberto Deniz, with 3 trends accumulating around 54,200 messages.
  6. Defense of Julian Assange, 3 trends demanding the release of the WikiLeaks founder, comparing his case with that of Álex Saab and using him as an example of “US kidnappings”.
  7. Propaganda and commercial issues about businesses allegedly linked to Saab, 3 trends driven by Anonymous Networks that are dedicated to defame, attack and make propaganda about some relevant topic in the country.

In October we published an investigation detailing the increase in the positioning of trends by the radical officialdom in his defense and how the day after Saab’s extradition to the United States we registered the trend of #LaVerdadSiempreTriunfa with around 170,000 tweets, promoted by the Ministry of Communication and Information (@mippcivzla) from its official Twitter account; being the first time that this institution, under the command of Nicolás Maduro, is involved in the defense of the businessman in the digital conversation.

Despite the fact that the policy regarding spam and manipulation of Twitter states that you cannot use the services of this platform for the purpose of amplifying or suppressing information artificially and that coordinated activities aimed at artificially influencing conversations through the use of several accounts, fake accounts, automated actions or scripts, are in breach of its policies; according to our analysis 69.98% of the messages in the tag driven by the MIPPCI were made by possible automated accounts or coordinated behavior in an inauthentic way.

Attack as a “defense” mechanism

On March 17, 2021 Deniz quoted a thread of tweets that summarized the investigation published by Armando Info on Álex Saab, as a result a campaign of defamation and attack against the journalist began, coordinated under the hashtag #DenizVendePatria, this reached approximately 8,915 tweets, our study reflects that at least 72 accounts that used the hashtag are possible bots or automated accounts that generated 27.97% of the messages. That is, these 72 accounts with inauthentic behavior generated approximately 2,493 of the tweets on the tag.

When analyzing in detail the accounts that participated in the tag against Deniz and due to the coincidence of the profile that issued the origin tweet with narratives linked to the Radical Officialism, we performed a cross-check between 1. 627 accounts that used the hashtag #DenizVendePatria with other lists of users identified by our observatory of the actors that usually attack, defame or misinform within the Venezuelan digital socio-political conversation, obtaining that 73.63% of the accounts that participated in the trend against Deniz, would have participated in trends driven by the program “Con el Mazo Dando”.

Recent events

Once Saab was extradited to the United States, the digital campaign of victimization and defense of the businessman intensified, as a result of a publication in the account of Lechuguinos (an account that was dedicated to disinformation and was suspended by Twitter) a new attack was generated defaming the Venezuelan journalist Roberto Deniz with the trend #DenizExtorsionador positioned on November 10 with approximately 41. 619 tweets that evidenced a clear coordination and manipulation for the positioning of this trend, where 60.08% of its messages were generated by possible automated or false accounts.

On January 27 Maduro at the TSJ headquarters claimed about the “pending task” of applying “implacable justice” against Guaidó, at the opening of the 2022 judicial year and the agreement of the Chavista parliament to “endorse the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office” also against Guaidó.

On Saturday, January 29, two days after this request, it was positioned on Twitter #AlexLibreGuaidoPreso, with almost 40 thousand tweets, which demands the release of Álex Saab for “being unjustly kidnapped” by the United States, using in many cases the image of a tweet issued from Guaidó’s official account on the same day referring to the dialogue in Mexico with the government and the willingness to resume it and demanding his arrest, calling him a “traitor of the homeland” and requesting the “increase of criminal sanctions against Venezuela”.

Example of the most repeated tweet

Cloud of words most used in tweets that included the trend #AlexLibreGuaidoPreso:

48.28% of the messages in this hashtag were made by possible automated accounts or with inauthentic behavior.

The #AlexLibreGuaidoPreso trend was driven by the same network of users that has been dedicated to promoting narratives in favor of Saab, attacking Cape Verdean officials, victimizing and misinforming about the case, manipulating the conversation about the negotiations in Mexico and is the same network that has previously attacked journalists such as Roberto Deniz.

From March 2021 to January 2022 this group of accounts coordinated with each other to impose their narrative has positioned at least 6,409,848 tweets in their campaign towards Álex Saab on Twitter.

This is why we remember: in social networks, not everything massive is real.

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