As Covid Cases Rise, the Conversation Dies on Social Media

As Covid Cases Rise, the Conversation Dies on Social Media

Published on 04 May 2022

Venezuela just broke its record for daily cases since the COVID-19 pandemic began. So, why is this the week with the least number of trending topics regarding the health crisis?

Thanks to the Omicron variant, this week Venezuela broke its record —not only once, but three times— for daily cases since the pandemic began on March 13, 2020, in the country. However, ProBox looked into the regime’s propaganda surrounding the pandemic, and it found something unexpected: as COVID cases increase in Venezuela, less is said about the pandemic, the rise of cases, the reported deaths, vaccination protocols, and biosecurity measures. Let’s dig deeper:

How is the government talking about the pandemic in 2022?

  • Between Tuesday and Saturday the cases increased, being Saturday, January 22, the day with the highest number of registered official cases (2,401 cases in 24 hours; which adds up to 6,798 more cases than the previous week).
  • So far in January, this has been the week with the least number of trends positioned on the pandemic. ProBox only registered a single one promoted by the MIPPCI (the actor that has spoken the most about the disease in recent months with propaganda about vaccination and prevention). The trend was #CuidémonosDeLaCovid19 on January 21 with around 170,000 tweets, of which at least 65.28% were made by possible bots.
  • Maduro assured that Venezuela is close to achieving 100% of vaccinated individuals against COVID-19.
  • Between January 1 and 25, 2022, 10 trends on the pandemic have been positioned, all promoted by the MIPPCI as propaganda for vaccination and the booster shot, as well as remembering biosafety regulations and promoting the “Healthy Squad”, children who dress up as superheroes and talk about how to fight the virus

  • The more cases, the fewer trending topics related to the pandemic. “At least in January the trending topics and the overall conversation on social media has been behaving this way” says the Probox teamwhile comparing the trends with the official reports:
  • From January 17 to 23, only one of these trends was positioned (14,533 new cases and 25 deaths)
  • From January 10 to 16, 3 were positioned (7,735 new cases and 23 deaths)
  • From January 03 to 09, 4 were positioned (2,280 new cases and 23 deaths)

How did the government use the pandemic for propaganda during 2021?

The Venezuelan government has carried out automated operations to promote opinion trends since 2010 and has used the pandemic in order to promote certain narratives:

  • The stigmatization of returning Venezuelan migrants as “biological weapons” sent by the government of Colombia.
  • In March 2021, the official communication apparatus promoted a campaign to justify its refusal to import the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the opposition-led National Assembly had managed to obtain via the COVAX mechanism of the Pan American Health Organization.
  • The regime also promoted “Covid’s miracle cure”, Carvativir, and positioned the hashtag #CervativirParaVivir. However, it later deleted most of the tweets regarding this disinformation campaign.

In 2021 Probox recorded 347 pandemic-related trends totaling more than 98 million messages: an average of almost 29 trends a month and almost 7 a week. However, the conversation varied dramatically each month.

Of the 347 trends linked to the pandemic positioned in 2021, only 49 were promoted by civil society with around 272,657 tweets. On average at least 68% of these messages were made by real users.

April was the month with the most pandemic trends driven by civil society with 17, followed by March with 12. This coincides with the demand for vaccines (especially after Maduro rejected AstraZeneca being sent to the country).

The Ministry of Communication and Information positioned 151 of these hashtags, shaping the conversation with more than 95% of the total messages (more than 93 million tweets). These trends include repeated hashtags, with #FlexibilizaciónConsciente being the one that was positioned the most during the year, using it 7 times to talk about the flexibility of the quarantine. Among the most repeated are also #VacúnateYA, #SemanaRadicalConsciente and #LuchaContraLaCovid19, all of them as propaganda for prevention measures and vaccination against the disease.

The last quarter of the year the conversation about the pandemic decreased dramatically on Twitter, with November being the month with the fewest trends since the pandemic began with only 4 hashtags. This matches with the end of the quarantine in Venezuela and the regional elections, as well as with the decrease in new cases according to Maduro’s spokesmen (38,183 cases were reported in October and 24,793 in November).

Three of these trends were promoted by MIPPCI as propaganda and one by the civil society as a digital protest to Karim Khan, the ICC Prosecutor carried by doctors denouncing the deaths of medical workers due to the lack of protection against the pandemic provided by the State.

ProBox & Caracas Chronicles.

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