Maduro extends support to Russia’s Twitter propaganda in Venezuela

Maduro extends support to Russia’s Twitter propaganda in Venezuela

Published on 16 Mar 2022

After a phone call between Maduro and Putin, the government's digital propaganda was activated

We are a digital observatory in charge of monitoring socio-political trending topics on Twitter in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua called ProBox. We determine 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 or altering public opinion and perception on social networks.

This initiative was born in 2019 due to the constant worsening of censorship in Venezuelan traditional media denounced over the years by organizations, journalists and media. The Carter Center’s preliminary report on the regional and municipal elections in November 2021 highlights that: “the progressive disappearance of the press in Venezuela’s media landscape during the last decade has pushed its citizens to use social networks as the main means of information” (p.16); also mentioned by the European Union Electoral Observation Mission (MOE-UE) and United Nations experts, who were able to access the country to assess the conditions of the electoral process for the first time in 15 years.

Russia’s influence on recent Venezuelan political talk

The tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated significantly in February, giving way to an invasion and armed conflict by Russia after recognizing the “independence” of the Ukrainian separatist zones; becoming one of the most relevant topics worldwide due to its relevance, implications and impact.

Between February 22 and 26 we registered the first 9 hashtags about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia as trending on Twitter in Venezuela: all of them coming from the category Others, where according to our segmentation we included the subcategory “International” for trends coming from other countries, topics or situations that become trending in the Venezuelan digital conversation.

While the conflict was advancing and becoming more visible in Twitter trends, and despite the fact that TV channels linked to the State propaganda apparatus -such as VTV- had been replicating false information about the situation, the Venezuelan government had not promoted any hashtag referring to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in its digital communication.

On March 1st, a phone call between Putin and Maduro was reported where they discussed how to “increase Venezuela’s alliance and strategic support to Russia ” starting the digital propaganda operation led by the Venezuelan officialism in favor of Russia (against the US and the Western region). That same afternoon the Radical Officialism positioned #EEUUIrrespeta, which reached approximately 38,000 messages referring to “hypocrisy” about the US position in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. According to our analysis, at least 52.56% of its tweets were generated from possible automated or fake accounts.

On March 1, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MIPPCI) promoted #VenezuelaConRusia as the second hashtag of the day, but it failed to trend (sometimes the MIPPCI promotes more than one hashtag per day but not all of them become trending).

On March 2, MIPPCI positioned #VenezuelaApuestaALaPaz with around 240,000 tweets condemning “the disinformation campaign promoted by Western countries against Russia”. This is the second trend positioned by the ruling party making reference to the conflict, in support of Putin. At least 68.43% of these messages were generated by accounts with inauthentic behavior.

On the same day, several pro-government entities managed to position as a trend #VenezuelaConRussia, a hashtag previously promoted by the MIPPCI (on March 1st). Their activity came especially from the Twitter account of the open and state-owned television channel, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), with around 4,105 tweets, but most of the messages were unrelated to the conflict. According to our analysis at least 42.95% were made by possible bots or accounts with inauthentic behavior.

Opposition joins the pro-Ukrainian campaign

Parallel to this propaganda campaign in favor of Russia and disinformation campaign against Ukraine orchestrated by the regime, which was denounced by journalists, we recorded the first hashtags promoted by other socio-political actors in the Venezuelan conversation on the subject.

On March 01, the Interim Government positioned #VzlaUnidaConUcrania with approximately 9,847 messages, at least 69.09% of these were made by real users. On the other hand, civil society promoted #MaduroNoEsVenezuela, repudiating Nicolás Maduro’s statements in favor of Russia. It totaled approximately 5,632 tweets, of which about 97.12% were made by real users; very different from the behavior reflected in the officialist trends that usually have a high average of manipulation.

On March 03, while the Venezuelan opposition again showed solidarity and support for the Ukrainian people with a street demonstration in Caracas, accompanied by a digital demonstration with the trend #VenezuelaConUcrania (8. 115 tweets approximately, 90.75% generated by real accounts), the State-ruled MIPPCI promoted #DiálogoEsPaz, repudiating “aggressions against Russia” accompanied by images of conversations between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations, reaching approximately 200,000 tweets of which around 61.03% were generated by possible automated accounts.

How does the sociopolitical conversation on Twitter regularly behave in Venezuela?

The officialism is usually the actor that dominates the conversation, however this also tends to have a higher average of messages made by possible automated accounts or with inauthentic behavior. The information gathered by our observatory in the last four-month period of the year 2021 (September – December), serves as an example to detail this point; during this period 575 trends were registered, 443 of these were positioned by the Venezuelan regime (Officialism) and generated 85.40% of the total messages of those four months.

This digital hegemony of the regime is also evident when examining the evolution of tweets, where the gap between the number of messages made by the ruling party and the rest of the actors (as a whole) of the Venezuelan socio-political conversation that we have identified (Opposition, Civil Society, Anonymous Networks and Others, which mainly refer to international trends) is clearly observed.

Most recently

On Monday, March 7, the visit of a delegation of high-level representatives of the U.S. Government to Venezuela to meet with members of Nicolás Maduro’s regime during the previous weekend was confirmed, being the first visit of the U.S. Government to the country in several years. On March 9, MIPPCI positioned the trend #USADerogaElDecretoYa demanding the cessation of sanctions against Venezuela with around 300,000 messages of which at least 69.35% were made by possible bots.

On March 10, the Russian ambassador to Venezuela published through his Twitter account a message of a “high-level meeting” together with Delcy Rodriguez, vice-president of the Maduro regime, in Turkey with the foreign minister of that country within the framework of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. In said forum, Rodriguez referred to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, causing MIPPCI to post #DiálogoEsReconciliación on March 11 with images of the meeting, generating approximately 290,000 messages, 72.85% of which were made by accounts with possible inauthentic behavior.

On March 13, MIPPCI positioned the trend #DiplomaciaBolivariana talking again about the intervention of Delcy Rodríguez at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with at least 300,000 tweets of which approximately 76.94% were made by possible bots. This shows that the Maduro regime’s support for Putin is not only limited to trade, military and diplomatic relations between the two regimes; it also seems that every time there is a high-level meeting between Venezuelan and Russian officials, massive trends are generated from Venezuelan officialdom on social networks in favor of the narrative in which Russia is a victim of NATO for the conflict with Ukraine.

Most of these hashtags relate Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia as the object of aggressions by the West and even several of them, although promoted by the structure affiliated to the government of one country, manage to become a trend in the other, evidencing a pattern of possible communication and influence of Russia in the communication strategies of Diaz-Canel, Ortega and Maduro; focusing on imposing on social networks the message of the invasion of Ukraine as part of a strategy of “pacification and dialogue”.

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