The #COP27 hashtag was manipulated for Maduro to amplify his disinformation, environmental and diplomatic propaganda.

The #COP27 hashtag was manipulated for Maduro to amplify his disinformation, environmental and diplomatic propaganda.

Published on 13 Dec 2022

Propaganda and disinformation disguised as "EcoSocialism".

  • Maduro’s participation in COP27 was the perfect scenario to impose the narrative that he is a champion in the fight against climate change and what he really did was to amplify his digital propaganda through accounts of institutions, military and twitter troops.

  • The ecosocialism narrative on Twitter grouped almost 3 million tweets to appear popular support for “being a key ally” against climate change, but 94.34% of these messages were generated by accounts with inauthentic behavior.

  • Several Venezuelan cyber-communities inflated and replicated the government’s messages during the climate conference, even surpassing the global conversation of activists and governments on the conference theme, positioning Maduro’s presence at COP27.

ProBox, Cazadores de Fake News and Medianálisis for C-Informa.

The presence of Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) was used by the president to fulfill other objectives that are not precisely linked to political actions on climate change or the promotion of green energy programs, but rather to his political and diplomatic interests.

The Venezuelan government put its information machinery to work with the clear intention of amplifying a propaganda that would go against the trends of the last year: to show Maduro as a great protector of the Amazon and promoter of actions against climate change in Venezuela in the international scenario.

This is why ProBox, experts in strategic political communication, the Fake News Hunters verification team and the journalists of Medianálisis, conducted an exhaustive analysis of the communicational behavior of this machinery during COP27.

The research consisted of the capture and review of tweets published by Venezuelan pro-government communities within the framework of the climate conference. The use of databases and the analysis of experts and journalists served to identify all the manipulation of the conversation on Twitter.

The result of this investigation is to reveal the techniques, tactics and procedures used by the Venezuelan State to exaggerate the importance of the President’s presence at the event, in order to counter national and international criticism for the destruction of the country’s ecosystems. The work done by the Coalición Informativa (C-Informa) also details how the communicational structure worked, starting in the High Government, passing through the military, robots, spam and ending in “twitter troops”, users who help to inflate narratives by payments through state platforms.

Digital troops on the scene

During the days of Maduro’s attendance at COP27, the Venezuelan president moved like a skillful pugilist in a ring that during the years of his administration has been elusive, uncomfortable, and even behind closed doors.

Suggested: Maduro asked at COP27 to reactivate Amazon agreement that would not require him to reduce deforestation in the Mining Arc

From the first round, during the participation of presidents and prime ministers of the world, Maduro and his team set up the strategy that would leave him in a good position in the informative context that looked like a tough opponent. The pre-existing communicational machinery, which is already well known in this type of contests, used Twitter accounts with bot-like features and different grassroots groups to amplify each message disseminated by the Venezuelan president. An example of this is the tweet announcing his arrival in Egypt, which included the hashtag #COP27.

In the following rounds, November 6, 7 and 8, when the focus was concentrated on the ministers of the environment portfolios and the negotiation teams of climate agreements, the communicational apparatus that accompanies the Venezuelan deployed its combat actions with the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information (MIPPCI) as main allies, both in social networks and in press releases disseminated through all the web pages of State agencies.

On November 6, ProBox identified the hashtag #COP27, which was trending worldwide with approximately 156,790 tweets and was positioned in Venezuela. A day later, MIPPCI adapted it to the Venezuelan public, promoting the hashtag #VenezuelaEnLaCOP27, which became the main trend in the country after it quintupled the amount of messages that the conference had reached worldwide, that is, it accumulated 623 thousand 210 tweets at national level, much more than #COP27 had achieved in the entire planet earth.

Suggested: Learn more about the twitter troops by clicking here.

ProBox managed to discover that out of the total number of tweets with the hashtag #VenezuelaEnLaCOP27, 95.71% were inauthentic, i.e., made by possible bots or organized digital troops. The research indicates that each account with this behavior and using this tag produced an average of 179 tweets, demonstrating the capacity to generate inorganic content, i.e., produced in a coordinated, repeated and grouped way, not by inspiration of each user. It also reveals that from Venezuela, the accounts of Nicolás Maduro and governmental entities began to use #COP27 to inject their narrative about the fight against climate change, the protection of the environment in Venezuela and the promotion of “ecosocialism”, which showed the first techniques and tactics applied by the government during the global event.

Among the accounts that joined to disseminate Maduro’s and MIPPCI’s messages, some of them were of a military nature, such as @GNB_Sucre, @CONAS_2doCmdte and @GNBCONAS_Vzla. ProBox was able to specify that these accounts worked in coordination to position the government propaganda narrative at COP27 and in total, there were 1,028 Twitter users who worked to make Maduro’s speech have more diffusion.

This is how the messages were posted on the military twitter accounts

The work of possible bots and “digital troops” was not limited to the first round, as on November 7 and 8 they were also active in the information offensive. The ProBox analysis indicates that on November 7, the hashtag #VenezuelaHumanista promoted by MIPPCI appeared with approximately 861.065 tweets, although 93.35% of these were inorganic (i.e., designed by the state office and repeated identically by affiliated users), while on November 8, when Maduro met with the presidents of Colombia and Guyana to promote the reactivation of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, the inflation of the narrative of ecosocialism as a “solution to the environmental problem” and the Venezuelan state as the main promoter of this continued.

The hashtag #CambiemosElSistema was also used, accumulating approximately 1,100,000 tweets, making it the largest hashtag pushed by the regime this year, with nearly 94% of its messages inauthentic, ProBox also found.

In definitive figures, the pro-government machinery on Twitter produced 2,741,000 tweets with the intention of massifying the narrative that Maduro was a “key ally” in the fight against climate change, but in reality, 2,585,920 of the total number of messages on Twitter were inauthentic, with almost 50% of the users participating in each of the positioned trends, which shows that in social networks, not everything that is massive is real.

ProBox and its research Propaganda and official misinformation on COP 27 (2022)

A little tree that distorts what we see in networks

To amplify the narratives of Maduro’s speeches during COP27, a cascading amplification scheme was used, in which a majority of accounts generating low quality content, amplify with retweets the reach of a minority of accounts belonging to media, ministries and politicians.

Cazadores de Fake News compares the structure of this propaganda amplification to a “little tree”, in whose top is the Twitter account of the “working president” and its reach is fed by retweets generated, from top to bottom, by lower ranking accounts, such as those belonging to the media, ministries and journalists, as this investigative team found in its analysis.

For more detail, at the base of that “little tree” thousands of accounts accumulate that generate repetitive content constantly, causing a distortion of the apparent importance of tweets published by accounts with higher hierarchy, that is, thousands of accounts replicate each message from Maduro with the intention of making believe that the Venezuelan society is talking about the president’s performance at COP27, but this does not reflect what is actually happening.

The impact of this intervention, according to these verifiers, meant that if you were in Morocco and consulted the hashtag, you were probably going to get tweets with propagandistic content generated from Venezuela, with a large number of retweets, which in normal conditions would be less relevant than others that addressed specific topics about the event. The research details that this type of amplification generates that some people in other countries might believe that Maduro is one of the great promoters of the fight against climate change at an international level, although this is not the case.

The same tactic used in the above was used by the government to massify the narrative of its legitimacy -and not that of Juan Guaidó- as president of Venezuela.

Cazadores found that the actions of different Venezuelan cyber-communities have an impact on the amplification of State propaganda, finding that three of the five most retweeted accounts during the stay of the official delegation at COP27, in any language, were the twitter account of President Maduro and others linked to the Venezuelan government structure, which published tweets about their attendance to the climate summit.

Using the T-hoarder kit methodology, the Fake News Hunters team downloaded 1,307,289 tweets posted between November 5 and 9, 2022 with the term “COP27”, generating a database that reflects how the global conversation about the summit went, based on the messages pushed on Twitter by different groups of accounts.

The study determined which were the most influential accounts, those present at the top of the “little tree” that represents the set of Venezuelan accounts that published using the hashtag #COP27. In order of importance, the most important accounts were Nicolás Maduro @NicolasMaduro, Venezolana de Televisión @vtvcanal8, the Ministry of Communication and Information @mippcivzla and the Presidential Press account @PresidencialVen.

The number of retweets received by these accounts far exceeded the numbers of more relevant accounts for the conversation about the climate summit, such as that of UN Secretary-General António Guterres @antonioguterres, that of COP27 itself @COP27P and the official account of the UN Climate Change unit in English @UNFCCC.

In short, the group of Venezuelan state accounts managed to get 8,221 accounts to interact with their messages and retweet 86,115 times the messages, 29,242 more RTs than those obtained by Guterres, COP27 and UNFCCC.

The accounts in this network generated 10.5 retweets on average per account, a higher proportion than other non-Venezuelan groups that generated between 5 and 8 retweets on average per account. This means that the Venezuelan group’s accounts were so active retweeting low-quality content, or spam, and made so much “noise” that the narrative they pushed ended up prevailing.

Here is the Cazadores de Fake News’ #COP27 trending retweet graph with 1,307,289 retweets downloaded between November 5 and 9, 2022.

Cazadores de Fake News How was the COP27 label contaminated with Venezuelan propaganda? (2022)

Cazadores de Fake News made a ranking of the tweets that received the most RTs during Maduro’s visit to Egypt. It is precisely the one announcing his arrival at the event “for the protection of the Pachamama” that ranked first with the most retweets, among all the tweets published between November 5 and 9, 2022

The next four most retweeted messages are other tweets from Maduro, the second one being one of those that raised the most controversy in Venezuela as it appears giving a greeting to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

This would point to a “hijacking of the digital conversation on Twitter about COP27 in order to amplify Venezuelan propaganda”, which overtook other international discussions on the same topic, driven by Arab twitter groups, British environmentalists, Human Rights advocates and British detractors of the event, according to the director of Cazadores.

Other revelations were to find how most of the amount of retweets to accounts linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro are directly influenced by the presence of several spam networks that guarantee the generation of a significant amount of retweets.

“There are highly spammy accounts that have posted, on average, more than 50 tweets a day since they were created. This is a conservative way of estimating the number of spammers, or accounts that generate repetitive propaganda content, with very little contribution to the discussion. They posted a total of 36,115 retweets, 29.59% of the retweets in the database studied. These types of accounts violate the Twitter Rules, which prohibit the generation of spam or fake interactions aimed at making certain accounts appear more popular or active than they really are,” the study highlights.

Additionally, other subgroups of accounts were identified that amplified Venezuelan propagandistic content shared on Twitter in the context of COP27: self-declared Tuiteros de la Patria (who generated a Twitter synchronization code with the Patria System in order to receive payment of “bonuses for tweeting”), accounts related to public agencies, accounts belonging to the military cybertroop of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and a group that could not be qualified.

“Around 46% of the retweets made to Venezuelan accounts come from accounts that systematically generate spam on Twitter to amplify Venezuelan propaganda, an activity that in many cases is associated with monetary benefits provided by the Venezuelan State through the Patria System, while an additional 9% is generated by accounts of government agencies, military or officials of public institutions, whose online participation is encouraged and sometimes demanded by superiors in order to amplify government propaganda,” said Gonzalez.

A precedent, a modus operandi

Fake News Hunters details that the way in which the governmental communication machinery operated at COP27 is not new, as there are already very similar precedents where the contamination of conversations, the imposition of narratives and disinformation were present.

On its website there are other investigations detailing how the network of the “tweeters of the homeland” spread tags related to Venezuela during the General or Annual Assemblies of the United Nations (UN) from 2020 to 2022. The hashtag #MaduroEnLaONU stands out among all of them, promoted this year, since Maduro never attended the headquarters of this organization in New York, with Foreign Minister Carlos Faría participating instead.

“Although Maduro did not attend the General Assembly in New York, several tweets with the hashtag announcing his “message” went viral on Twitter, among them one published by the Venezolana de Televisión channel, and another one tweeted by Mirelys Contreras, Minister of People’s Power for the Penitentiary Service. On Twitter, the trend #MaduroEnLaONU has the same characteristics as the trends proposed by MIPPCI and promoted by the network Tuiteros de La Patria: Very high percentage of retweets (93.76% RT) and a lot of manual spam from Android”, according to the report published on September 27.

In 2020, the report also shows how the hashtag #MaduroVictoriosoEnLaONU was one of the two propaganda spam trends promoted in Venezuela on September 24 and reached approximately 5 million 70 thousand tweets, “denoting the relevance in the promotion of the hashtag by networks of accounts linked to the Venezuelan regime, which daily position propaganda trends”, according to the research.

What the government did at the UN assemblies was repeated at the COP27, as demonstrated by the joint research and analysis of ProBox, Cazadores de Fake News and Medianálisis when they unravel the procedures carried out by the State to disinform on deforestation, protection of the Amazon and actions against climate change.

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