From #Primarias2023 to #MegaFraude: The digital battle in Venezuela

From #Primarias2023 to #MegaFraude: The digital battle in Venezuela

Published on 26 Oct 2023

The primary election was also measured on social media.

The participation registered in the citizen elections in which María Corina Machado was chosen as the next presidential candidate of the opposition, was also transferred to the social network X (former Twitter) with the positioning of the hashtag #Primarias2023 for 3 consecutive days as a trend.

The conversation around the hashtag about the primaries was not only generated organically, but also failed to be overshadowed by the radical ruling party, which on the same day took on the task of promoting its own hashtag chanting “fraud” in response to the mobilization that was evident in networks in the opposition consultation.

Since July, the narrative of the radical ruling party on the primaries has revolved around the “#NoTeVistaQueNoVas”, promoted mainly by Diosdado Cabello in his program “Con el Mazo Dando”, but after the successful completion of the process, the message changed to qualify the event as a fraud, not only to ignore the results but also to directly attack the National Primary Commission.

With the hashtag #MegaFraude, the ruling party tried to create a new narrative about the digital conversation of the Primaries. What started as an online smear campaign, finally translated this October 25 into a concrete fact with the opening of a criminal investigation against the directors of the National Primary Commission.

#Primarias2023: reactivating the conversation online

The conversation on X in Venezuela has been dominated for several years by chavista narratives. On a daily basis, the account of the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIPPCI) shares trends that are replicated by governmental entities and Chavista troops to inorganically position narratives related to the State.

This strategy has worked for the Maduro regime to maintain a digital communicational hegemony in spaces such as X but, on the weekend of October 22, the opposition activated the conversation around the hashtag #Primarias2023 used by political parties, activists, independent media, political leaders and citizens inside and outside the country.

At ProBox we registered this trend from Saturday 21st, one day before the electoral process, and it was maintained until Monday October 23rd, one day after the elections. Registering more than 230,000 tweets and, according to the sample analysis obtained for processing through our tool of possible inauthentic content, at least 92.3% of the content in this tag was generated by real users.

#Primarias2023 is the largest trend we have registered since August 23 in Venezuela, generating almost 8 times more messages than the average registered in trends driven by MIPPCI between October 1 and 23 (29 thousand tweets).

Twitter (X) is once again the central place of conversation

By exploring the conversation about the Primaries through a social listening tool using the keywords: “#Primarias2023”, “plataforma unitaria”, “elecciones primarias Venezuela”, “Comisión Nacional de Primarias”, “primarias oposición Venezuela”, “#ElecciónPrimaria” and “#HoyVotoYDecido”, we were able to obtain a sample of 9,004 mentions, generating content analysis between September 22 and October 23. The highest activity was recorded on October 22 and 23, mainly concentrated on October 22 with 2,583 mentions.

This conversation took place mainly on X with 71.13% of mentions (6,405 mentions), followed by Instagram with 24.7% (2,224 mentions) and 4.18% of those on Facebook (376 mentions).

The accounts with the greatest reach that interacted with this topic were mainly international news media covering the event, such as CNN, Noticias Caracol, El País, El Tiempo and Noticias RCN.

The “mega fraud” denounced by Chavismo

The ruling party was present on social media to chant fraud in a process that at first it did not recognize, then assured that it would not take place and in which it had no participation at the level of candidates.

From our monitoring we detected that the Venezuelan radical officialism began to promote #MegaFraude in the afternoon of October 22 during the opposition elections, accumulating approximately 5,666 tweets. Additionally, downloading a sample of 1,000 tweets of this hashtag for analysis in our tool, allowed us to obtain a cloud of the most repeated words, among which “Corina”, “Machado”, “Inhabilitada” and “sustituta” stand out, referring to María Corina Machado, who was the winner of the process.

Just as in the case of the trend #Primarias2023, we conducted a search with the terms “#MegaFraude” and “primarias oposición fraude”, obtaining 1,031 mentions. However, when observing the evolution of the conversation around these between September 23 and October 23, we found that it was almost nonexistent until October 22, when the highest activity was registered (828 mentions). In other words, this is a new narrative coordinated by the ruling party to delegitimize the process.

According to this sample, almost the entire conversation was concentrated in X with 97.19% of the mentions recorded (1,002), followed by Facebook with 1.65% (17) and Instagram with 1.16% (12).

Unlike the conversation around #Primarias2023, in the pro-government narrative about the “fraud”, international media accounts or pages do not stand out among the main accounts with the greatest reach and momentum of this line of communication, but profiles linked to the radical ruling party and the Venezuelan State.

An example of this is the account of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the state of Miranda, which promoted messages with statements by Diosdado Cabello, pointing out that the primaries were aimed at “inflating the numbers” and categorizing them as “a fraud”.

Diosdado Cabello and the cry of “fraud”.

This is not the first time Cabello refers to the opposition process, in fact, last October 18, Cabello shared in his program “Con el Mazo Dando” the hashtag #NoVasNiQueTeVistas, gathering close to 1,200 tweets (an abnormal number for the trends promoted by this actor, which usually exceed 10,000 messages) talking mainly about not recognizing the results of the opposition primaries due to the disqualification of some candidates who could not participate in the presidential elections. Followed by #AsíChillesOPataleesNoVas promoted on Wednesday, October 25 in the same program, accumulating at least 5,780 tweets with messages and images against María Corina Machado, mainly referring to her disqualification.

Through a cross-check of users on trends promoted by Diosdado Cabello referring to the opposition primaries along with the hashtag #MegaFraud, we identified at least 63 matching X accounts in the conversation. That is, 63 users who promoted Cabello’s narratives against the primaries also participated in #MegaFraud.

In #MegaFraud also stand out accounts such as that of Michel Caballero Palma, who works as a reporter for Venezuela News and VTV, media linked to the State that generate propaganda and disinformation in the country.

Caballero made publications in X talking about “an automated voting system” in favor of candidate María Corina Machado and accusing the National Primary Commission of fraud, especially naming Jesús María Casal.

In addition to this, we were also able to identify some posts on X that made use of the hashtag #MegaFraude and #Primarias2023 with the same base message to post massively during October 22, along with a video showing a single empty polling station, demonstrating the coordination of users inorganically to position the fraud narrative and contaminate the conversation about the Primaries.

From digital to physical attack

After all this operation to create an opinion matrix around the Primary process, finally the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced this Wednesday, October 25, the opening of a criminal investigation against the elections held by the opposition.

The Attorney General, Tarek William Saab, reported the appointment of two criminal investigators specialized in “organized crime” and in matters of identification and foreigners to carry out these investigations in view of the “fraud”.

The Prosecutor’s Office states that at least four crimes were committed on Sunday: usurpation of functions, usurpation of identity, money laundering and criminal association.

For this reason, the institution will summon as witnesses the president of the National Primary Commission (CNP), Jesús María Casal, as well as the vice-president, Mildred Camero, and the 24 heads of the regional boards that organized these votes in a self-managed manner, without the help of the electoral body.

These actions once again provoked civil society and the Venezuelan opposition to unite under the hashtag #YoApoyoALaComisionDePrimaria, which started trending on X on October 25 itself, gathering at least 37,300 tweets, rejecting the Attorney General’s statements and supporting the National Primary Commission.

Social networks continue to play a key role

After all this operation to create a matrix of opinion around the primary process, it highlights the importance of platforms such as X in countries with high levels of censorship and digital authoritarianism; citizens and independent media in Venezuela were able to use social networks to disseminate information and comment on the process, despite the cut of Cantv’s ABA internet service on October 22, reaffirming the importance of continuing to analyze the digital conversation and provide tools to users to understand the disinformation in these spaces and learn how to combat it.

For more information on socio-political manipulation on social media you can follow us as @ProBoxVE

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