The Officialism and the use of its Twitter Troops

The Officialism and the use of its Twitter Troops

Published on 04 Oct 2022

Most of the official messages come from automated accounts or inauthentically coordinated users' networks.

Since we started in 2019 the study of the socio-political conversation of Twitter trends in Venezuela, we have identified how the State intends to alter the information circulating in this social network. In the digital conversation, hashtags coming from the ruling party are positioned daily and, according to our analysis, most of the messages promoting these narratives come from automated accounts or networks of users coordinated inauthentically among themselves called “troops”.

In 2021 we were able to register 1,969 trends in Twitter Venezuela, totaling approximately 223,952,710 tweets; the ruling party positioned 1,196 of them and its messages represent 92.43% of the total conversation, imposing its narrative in networks to manipulate public opinion, divert attention on some national event or to simulate support for its own narratives and those of its allies.

But how does the government use the “Twitter Troops”?

These are some cases where we have evidenced the operation behind this coordination of users in an inauthentic way, to position narratives that alter the citizen denunciations, the balances of international organizations on the situation in Venezuela and other facts exposed by independent media:

Manipulation on the ICC investigation for crimes against humanity in Venezuela:

On October 31, the ICC Prosecutor General, Karim Khan, arrived in the country to talk with the parties involved in the Venezuelan case that at the time was carrying two preliminary examinations. On November 02, culminating his visit, he announced from the Miraflores Palace the opening of a formal investigation for alleged crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela since 2017 in the framework of anti-government demonstrations and State security operations.

While Khan was in the country, the Officialism promoted trends of how Venezuelan justice “works perfectly”, about the country as a “territory of peace” and that “there was nothing to hide” because there was “full collaboration” with all institutions to ensure justice.

In parallel, civil society also dedicated itself to position labels but with very different narratives from those promoted by the regime, these focused on the denunciation of human rights violations, extrajudicial executions, persecution, harassment and the worsening of the Complex Humanitarian Emergency in the country.

While on average 71.74% of the messages of the ruling party were manipulated, at least 85.84% of the messages of the citizens were made authentically.

Here you can read the article we published about it with Caracas Chronicles.

Disinformation on the arrest of Freddy Guevara:

On July 12, 2021 at 12:55 p.m. the deputy of the National Assembly elected in 2015, Freddy Guevara, made a live transmission from Instagram, where he is surrounded on the Prados del Este highway by a group of “officials” with long guns and ski masks hiding their faces.

There was no further official information on the Deputy’s whereabouts until six hours later when the regime’s Attorney General, Tarek William Saab, published on his Twitter account a statement from the Public Ministry confirming Guevara’s detention by the SEBIN. At least 4 hours before the prosecutor’s statements, a troop of users linked to radical officialism positioned #CapturadoKokiMariguanita making reference to the alleged reasons about Guevara’s detention, at least 46.36% of the accounts attacking and linking Guevara with alleged acts of terrorism, are accounts that have constantly participated in trends promoted by Diosdado Cabello, especially from his program “Con el Mazo Dando”.

In our publication “Tropa digital posicionó tendencias promoviendo la detención de Freddy Guevara”, you can read more about it.

Support to the Cuban regime’s narratives denying the reality of the protests on the island:

On July 11, 2021, a wave of mass protests began in Cuba in which social media were protagonists. This caused the Venezuelan government to post at least 11 tags in support of Cuba and more than 1.4 million tweets, especially from the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information (MIPPCI).

We also identified accounts of Cuban Medical Missions in Venezuela that promote tags coming from Cuba, particularly when it comes to ephemeris or ideological propaganda, which were involved in positioning messages in the midst of protests. These hashtags from Venezuela also managed to position themselves in Cuba, pretending to alter the narrative about what was happening on the island during the demonstrations and repression of the Díaz-Canel regime.

In the article “Chavismo feeds Twitter in favor of the Cuban regime”, published by Diario de Cuba, we talked more about it.

Why is this important?

According to the report of the European Union’s Electoral Observation Mission, around 14 million Venezuelans are users of social networks, increasing the relevance of the Internet in the country in recent years after the loss of trust in traditional media, most of them subject to state control.

We discussed this in a Twitter Space called “The importance of social networks in closed political contexts” with Luis Vidal, director of More Consulting, who pointed out that in at least 80% of Venezuelan households a member of the family has a smartphone and that traditional media have been abandoned both for information and entertainment; however, he also stated that this varies according to the political inclination of the citizen, highlighting Instagram as the channel through which they tend to receive more political information.

Added to this is the large flow of content that is circulating online precisely because of the communicational hegemony of the State, which has caused many citizens to take information as truthful just for having a large number of interactions on any digital platform.

Alexis Correia, journalist and member of EsPajaVE, highlighted how WhatsApp is usually the largest source of content that needs verification, since many times a message is shared over and over again that is often erroneous or misinformation about a specific fact. This is more evident when it comes to sensationalist content or content that significantly affects people’s emotions, becoming more likely to share unverified content.

María Fernanda Rodríguez, journalist and verifier for Cotejo.Info, also participated in this space detailing the difficulty to contrast the public discourse of political figures due to the lack of official figures and access to truthful information that would give Venezuelans a better picture of the current situation of the country in any field.

The manipulation of the online conversation by the State through the coordination of real accounts and the use of automated accounts to alter the conversation not only violates Twitter’s usage policies but represents a violation of digital rights, which are an extension of human rights applied on the web.

Therefore, we always remember that not everything massive on social networks is real.

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