Discreditation failed: civil society defends Rocío San Miguel online

Discreditation failed: civil society defends Rocío San Miguel online

Published on 20 Feb 2024

Citizens support Rocío San Miguel in the face of disinformation from the Regime

The civil society raised its voice in the world after State agents arrested last February 9 the lawyer and activist for Human Rights, Rocío San Miguel. A woman who in 2018 won against the Government of Chávez in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights also maintains her struggle on social media, in spite of the siege of the digital troops of the government also in these spaces.


It has been 10 days since the lawyer and renowned human rights defender disappeared in the hands of the State when she was transferred without a court order, without lawyers, without due process and without even knowing where. Nobody saw San Miguel for almost 10 days. Neither her relatives nor her lawyers were able to confirm that she was in the Helicoide headquarters until February 18, when she received her first visit.


The national and international human rights organizations that have raised their voices to demand his release have not only been threatened, but several have been expelled. Only six days after the arbitrary detention, the Maduro government announced the suspension of the activities of the Technical Advisory Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Venezuela, giving its workers 72 hours to leave the country.


Although the communication apparatus at the service of Maduro deployed several defamation strategies against the activist, it has not been able to obscure the alert and the denunciation of the activist’s disappearance. ProBox data show that the conversation in social media platforms around #DóndeEstáRocío generated a greater and more authentic interaction than the activity around the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta, promoted by the radical Chavismo, and from which it was intended to impose the narrative that San Miguel was a “traitor of the Homeland”, justifying her detention for allegedly being behind a plan to “assassinate Maduro”.


The official discourse against Rocío


The year 2024 began with the reactivation of threats from the government towards Venezuelan non-governmental organizations and activists; the draft Law for the Control, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations was brought back to the forefront by Diosdado Cabello at the end of 2023 and was reinforced by Jorge Rodríguez in January of the current year, with the announcement of the beginning of the public consultation on the same from the National Assembly.


At least 60 hours after Rocío San Miguel, director of the NGO Control Ciudadano, was arrested and taken to an unknown location by an undetermined security force, the prosecutor Tarek William Saab came forward and informed that her arrest was made “by virtue of an arrest warrant against her for allegedly being linked and referenced in the conspiracy plot and attempted assassination called Brazalete Blanco”. At that time it was not disclosed where she was or what agency was guarding her or if she had had access to lawyers.


Before the prosecutor’s statements, Chavista leader Diosdado Cabello published a message in his X account, which although it did not name the activist directly, it did allude to the reasons with which Chavismo ended up justifying the arrest. “The decadent imperialism of the U.S. government no longer dissimulates, does not keep the forms, promotes and shamelessly defends its agents who attempt assassinations,” he wrote.


By February 17, Cabello was responding to a post by @sonpolemicas which states that “for Maduro to be considered a “democrat” by the United States and its lackeys, he has to allow himself to be assassinated by Washington’s paid agents such as Rocío San Miguel”.


Despite being in the national and international public eye due to the presidential elections (which are still without a formal electoral schedule), what is happening to the renowned human rights defender is part of an escalation of threats by the government against non-governmental organizations and human rights activists living in the country.



How chavismo tries to discredit Rocío San Miguel using social media


Thus, defaming and attacking San Miguel’s work online was a strategy coordinated from the pro-Chávez ranks. ProBox conducted a search on social media with some key words used by the ruling party on the subject (#RocíoNoEsSanta, Rocío San Miguel Helicoide, Rocío San Miguel brazalete blanco and Rocío San Miguel terrorista).


The results show that the conversation was concentrated between February 11 and 17, the dates on which the disappearance of the human rights defender was recorded. However, the peak of negative conversation against San Miguel was generated on February 14.


In total, 799 mentions were recorded in the period analyzed, 73.47% were concentrated in X (587 mentions), followed by Facebook with 13.27% of what was recorded (106 mentions) and Instagram with the same amount.


Associating the human rights defender with assassination plots, of which she was later accused by Tarek William Saab, was key in the dissemination of the messages online. “Trama conspirativa” (with 52 mentions), “trama brazalete” (with 37 mentions) and “intento magnicidio” (with 22 mentions) were the phrases with which Rocío San Miguel was referred to with the aforementioned word search.


Among the top accounts with the most mentions in this conversation, accounts in X with inauthentic behavior and profiles stand out in the first two places.


Among the users with the most activity against San Miguel was @jesus88657 with 16 mentions of the issue, followed by the user @kb_ql22 (with “Karlita °**Chavistamente*° 28K” as name) with 11 mentions and a reach of more than 28,000 accounts, and in third place Núcleo Noticias due to textual quotes made to officials such as Tarek William Saab with 10 mentions and a reach of 13,818 accounts.



#RocíoNoEsSanta: new hashtag, old strategy


Rocía San Miguel is not the first person to be attacked online by the pro-Chávez troops. At ProBox we have studied in recent years the coordination of accounts that are articulated at the time of a communicational attack. Behind the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta there is a series of known users who have discredited and attacked political leaders or people uncomfortable to the Government in other opportunities.


For a better understanding behind #RocíoNoEsSanta and the momentum of narratives created to defame activists in Vzla, ProBox conducted a crosswalk of users using this hashtag with a list of others who promoted #SonTerroristas positioned on January 22, 2024 against several opposition leaders such as María Corina Machado, Leopoldo López, Juan Guaidó, among others. At least 65 accounts that made tweets with the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta also previously participated in the attack trend against opposition leaders.


Ratifying the coordination between accounts of the radical ruling party and anonymous networks to promote narratives against Venezuelan dissidence, a final cross-check of users was carried out between #RocíoNoEsSanta and #TarazonaMercenario, also promoted by the ruling party in 2021 when Javier Tarazona was arrested; this resulted in 18 accounts in common between the two trends.


By doing the same exercise with the trend #AntidotoFuriaBolivariana, promoted by Diosdado Cabello in his program “Con el Mazo Dando” on January 24, ProBox found at least 49 accounts in common that also posted messages with the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta.



How civil society defends Rocío online


Despite the fact that chavismo tried to promote and impose its narrative on social media with the case of Rocío San Miguel, this time it did not succeed. The volume of mentions about the arbitrary detention of the activist and the petitions for her release was higher.


ProBox used some keywords promoted by members of the civil society to denounce the disappearance of Rocío San Miguel such as: forced disappearance, Rocio San Miguel, Rocío San Miguel Helicoide, #DondeEstaRocío and sippenhaft Rocío San Miguel. This last term, sippenhaft, was included in the search because in the denunciation campaign in social media platforms reference was made to the policy employed by the Third Reich in which the criminal responsibility of a persecuted person was extended to his relatives, being the case of some members of the activist’s family, who were detained and disappeared under the same conditions.


This search obtained 4,413 mentions, a volume 81.8% higher than the 799 mentions registered by the narrative against San Miguel.

The peak of this conversation occurred on February 16 with at least 1,236 mentions. 79.61% recorded of the sample came from X (3,513 mentions), followed by Facebook with 16.7% (737 mentions), and then Instagram with 3.69% (163 mentions).


In addition to the hashtag #DóndeEstáRocío, the use of #DesapariciónForzada (102 mentions), #DDDHH (with 82 mentions) and #LibertadParaRocío (with 26 mentions) stood out. Likewise, words such as “detención rocío” (with 215 mentions), “activist Rocío” (with 191 mentions), “Tarek William” (with 189 mentions), “defensora humanos” (with 146 mentions), “Control Ciudadano” (with 146 mentions), among others, stand out.


The accounts that made the most mentions are all linked to the media. In first place, El Cooperante on X with 36 mentions of the topic and a reach of 445,238 accounts, followed by Efecto Cocuyo on Facebook with 27 and a reach of 46,516 accounts, and Núcleo Noticias on X with 27 and a reach of 13,818 accounts.


On platforms such as TikTok, the discourse against Rocío San Miguel was also overshadowed by the general rejection of her arrest. ProBox found that the 6 top trending videos around the hashtag #DóndeEstáRocío had 7 times more plays and reach than the 6 top trending videos under the hashtag and #RocíoNoEsSanta.


While the videos analyzed in this network with the hashtag #DóndeEstáRocío accumulated 528,700 reproductions, more than 25 thousand likes and 1,689 comments; the videos with the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta were reproduced only 79,971 times, had 1,349 likes and 96 comments.


In addition to this, the hashtag #RocíoNoEsSanta, found no videos that criticized or defended the regime’s position regarding the activist’s detention. On the contrary, the 6 videos found for both hashtags were explicitly news or denouncing the detention.



A plan against Rocío, a plan against NGOs


This is not the first time that the spotlight has been put on citizen organizations in Venezuela. The antecedents date back to at least a decade ago, when in 2014 Vice Minister William Castillo began to label NGOs as “international franchises” that attack Venezuela. From that year until now, a plan has been orchestrated to disqualify the work of NGOs.


The promotion of the draft Law for the Control, Regularization, Performance and Financing of Non-Governmental and Related Organizations is a sample of what is happening. This project returned to the limelight by the hand of Diosdado Cabello at the end of 2023 and was reinforced by Jorge Rodriguez in January, with the announcement of the beginning of the public consultation on the same from the National Assembly.


The background of this legislative plan dates back to 2021, when, with a National Assembly dominated by the ruling party, the International Cooperation Bill entered the legislative agenda, which already then generated alarm in the organized civil society, under suspicion of receiving money to “destabilize”. That bill did not advance further in the parliament, but its principles were replicated in the instrument that was approved in 2023 and has been taken up again at the beginning of this year 2024.


In fact, the persecution and detention of activists along with legislative projects and political disqualifications have regained strength at the beginning of 2024 and constitute a civic attack prior to the presidential elections.



A message to all


The high profile of Rocío San Miguel raises alarms about the level of repression to which Chavismo is escalating. Her arrest occurs at a time when positive results should be seen in the dialogue between the government and the opposition in Barbados, a space in which they are discussing and trying to achieve minimum essential conditions for the development of the next presidential elections.


With the ratification of the disqualification of María Corina Marchado, first, and with the arrest of Rocío later, the Chavista government does not seem to care about the warning of the United States to reimpose the economic sanctions it had withdrawn in the framework of the dialogue.


In the opinion of analysts, San Miguel’s arrest sends a message to the rest of the organizations and human rights defenders: no one is untouchable.


However, the great commotion online over the activist’s disappearance also sends a message to Chavismo: despite repression, persecution and censorship, civil society continues to raise its voice in all spaces, including the digital one.



For more information on these issues you can search for the hashtag #LupaElectoral on social media or follow the official accounts of ProBox, RunRunes, El Pitazo, TalCual, Redes Ayuda, Medianálisis and EsPaja.


*** The data from the ProBox Digital Observatory study was based on a keyword search between January 16 and February 17.

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