Chavismo reacts with “social intelligence” after allegations of use of avatars in fake newscasts

Chavismo reacts with “social intelligence” after allegations of use of avatars in fake newscasts

Published on 03 Mar 2023

The government's communication apparatus quickly aligns itself to disinform from different platforms.

The denunciation of the use of avatars and artificial intelligence by the Maduro government to try to sell an alternate and favorable reality about the socioeconomic situation in Venezuela generated a great stir and activated the Chavista communication machinery.

What started as a report by the Spanish newspaper El País to show the government’s promotion of fake newscasts on YouTube, quickly turned into an organized campaign by Maduro’s government to discredit the report, attack the journalist who conducted the investigation and generate an alternative discourse on social networks through the positioning of tags with inauthentic messages, i.e., in violation of Twitter’s rules for being automated or coordinated in a non-organic way. All this is another example of how the communication apparatus of the ruling party quickly aligns itself to divert the conversation, lying and generating disinformation from different platforms.

From Artificial Intelligence to Social Intelligence

On Monday, February 20, El País published a report entitled “No son periodistas, son avatares: el chavismo impulsa propaganda hecha con inteligencia artificial” (They are not journalists, they are avatars: Chavismo pushes propaganda made with artificial intelligence). The article points out that false reports on economic improvements in Venezuela, driven by computer-generated profiles, have begun to circulate as advertisements on YouTube.

The publication of the Spanish newspaper is based on the previous study of the allied organization Cazadores de Fake News, which explained in its social networks how the Chavista government was using these resources.

El País also reviewed in its publication how ProBox, which has been studying since late 2018 the behavior of socio-political trends on social networks in Venezuela, has documented precisely how the manipulation of information by chavismo is a common denominator within digital platforms.

The videos show the supposed journalists Noah and Daren, who are actually two avatars created with artificial intelligence from the catalog of more than a hundred multiracial faces from the software.

In addition, the video is in English with Spanish subtitles, inferring that this alleged newscast “House Of News en Español” is produced in the United States. However, its YouTube channel was created on January 26, 2023 and has only five videos of which three talk only about Venezuela. In addition, no information is disclosed about any website, person or entity that manages “House of News en Español” or any link with English versions of “media” with the same name.

“We wanted to know if Venezuela is really as destroyed as the media has claimed for years”, begins the presentation of one of the avatars of this fake newscast; from there, Venezuelan beaches full of tourists and alleged calls to travel agencies are shown, whose names are never mentioned and whose operators claimed that they had no free travel quotas for the carnival festivities and that, in addition, the packages cost hundreds of dollars.

The central idea of the video was to generate the perception that the economic and social reports of Venezuelan institutions and NGOs that indicate poverty figures for more than 90% of the population contradict reality.

After the publication of the newspaper El País, chavismo began to attack the media and the Venezuelan journalist who made the report, Florantonia Singer. From the program La Hojilla, Mario Silva attacked Singer pointing out that they knew she lived in Venezuela and offending her directly through the State Channel, VTV.

In parallel, an alternative discourse began to be generated to divert attention from the use of artificial intelligence in propaganda campaigns by pointing out that in Venezuela there is “social intelligence”, promoting a tag in social networks with that name.

Chavista response to El País: Twitter becomes active

Following the publication of the report, Nicolás Maduro spoke out on the issue by naming El País as a media that sought to misinform about what was happening in Venezuela.

“They accuse us that we are robots, that we do not exist. No, it is not artificial intelligence, it is popular intelligence, it is revolutionary intelligence,” Maduro said in a televised speech.

On February 21, at 5:26 p.m., MIPPCI promoted as the second hashtag of the day #SomosInteligenciaSocial, accompanied by the message “We are people in resistance!”.

According to our registry the hashtag accumulated 366,048 tweets approximately, of which at least 96.35% were made in a coordinated non-authentic way. Likewise, at least 6,412 users and 3,219 accounts with possibly automated behavior were identified. This means that it was amplified by the tweeting troop, making it very clear how this supposed “social intelligence” works, which is rather an additional form of digital manipulation.

In the cloud of words most used in the tweets containing #SomosInteligenciaSocial that we were able to obtain with the use of our tool, the word “etiqueta” (hashtag) stands out as the word that most accompanied the tweets.

In addition, we were able to identify the top 5 of accounts with the most possibly automated behavior that posted messages with the hashtag:

Most of the tweets that used the hashtag did not add value to the conversation, but rather sought to achieve trending positioning with any message or image.

How does the Synthesia software work?

The truth is that creating a video in the Synthesia software is very simple. With a monthly subscription of just $30, a user can copy a script for the software to generate the video. Voices are available in 120 languages with different accents, and the program can also synchronize the avatar’s lips with what is being said.

The vice-president of Communication, Culture and Tourism, Freddy Ñáñez, who is also the president of the state channel VTV, published a tweet in which he claimed that the use of artificial intelligence was nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Political scientist, data analyst and ProBox ally, Rómulo Córdova, responded to the tweet with the same alleged journalist (avatar) speaking in Spanish a script created by him to demonstrate the use of the software to generate a false report.

What is clear is that the pro-Maduro government reacted with a campaign of attacks and lies, after being exposed with a content that sought to attract followers to its narrative of “wellbeing” and “progress” in the country. This was yet another resource to try to wash the face of a regime with an open investigation before the ICC for crimes against humanity and that pretends to hide a reality that is narrated by citizens in a very different way.

Therefore, from ProBox we emphasize that in social networks not everything massive is real and how important it is to be aware of the manipulation in the discourse that is presented to us on these platforms.

This work is part of the deliveries of the Coalición Informativa “C-Informa”, a Venezuelan journalistic team that aims to confront disinformation and is integrated by Medianálisis, Efecto Cocuyo, El Estímulo, Cazadores de Fake News and ProBox with the support of the Consorcio para Apoyar el Periodismo Independiente en la Región (CAPIR) and the advice of Chequeado from Argentina and DataCrítica from Mexico.

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