The power machine: how Maduro weaves his propaganda network

The power machine: how Maduro weaves his propaganda network

Published on 23 May 2024

Although Maduro was officially declared a candidate in March 2024, he has been promoting his reelection since 2023.

Nicolás Maduro is campaigning. With the presidential elections set for July 28, 2024, Chavismo has deployed most of its communicational power to disseminate the image of a Maduro candidate seeking reelection; which would make him the president who has been sitting in the Miraflores chair the longest in the history of the country. 

 

What Chavism is doing for the elections goes beyond its continuity in power. With these elections, Maduro seeks to validate himself before a large part of an international community that, during the last few years, did not recognize him as president of Venezuela, unleashing a series of economic sanctions that sought to suffocate the regime’s income.

 

Freedom House puts it this way: “Elections are such a powerful tool for conferring political legitimacy that even authoritarian leaders continue to hold them, although they also do everything they can to minimize the risk of defeat. Precisely to minimize failure, it is much more common for governments to secure unfair advantages before voting day. 

 

Controlling who appears on the ballot, changing electoral rules and using state resources to tilt the playing field in favor of the ruling party are common practices in authoritarian governments, says Freedom House. 

 

In the Venezuelan case, Maduro has applied them all: the disqualification of María Corina Machado, the impossibility of Corina Yoris to register before the CNE, the early elections and the use of State institutions to promote Maduro as a presidential candidate have become part of a planned strategy that seeks to take electoral advantage, especially on social media. 

 

At ProBox we have monitored how the President and candidate has deployed a relentless campaign, once again using all State resources at his disposal to weave a propaganda network that contaminates the online conversation; imposing official narratives by using government agencies and open television channels to promote his candidacy, misinform and attack his opponents. All with the intention of minimizing the conversation of civil society actors in social media platforms.

 

Maduro’s online campaign started in 2023

 

In Venezuela, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MIPPCI) dictates the communication guidelines on social media, at least in X (formerly Twitter). This has been repeatedly evidenced and denounced by ProBox.  With the presidential elections on the horizon, the MIPPCI has become one of the central pillars of support for Maduro in his role as a candidate rather than in his current position as President of the country. 

 

Long before the electoral calendar was known, before making the candidacy official before the National Electoral Council (CNE) and before the formal start of the electoral campaign, the MIPPCI was already positioning campaign trends in favor of Nicolás Maduro, starting this process on July 27, 2023; that is, one year before the date defined for the elections. 

 

 

According to our records, from January 2023 to April 30, 2024, 88 trends have been positioned in X from pro-government actors and institutions in support of Maduro, accumulating more than 8,462,776 tweets in that period. 

 

Looking at the numbers in detail, we determined that: 

  • The main actor driving this conversation and inauthentic coordination of messages through massive campaigns in X, was the MIPPCI with 75% (66 trends) that totaled 97.340% of the registered tweets (8,243,050 appx.). 50 of them are electoral, having the first record of this narrative in July 2023. 
  • In second place were government entities such as the governor of Sucre with 19.32% (17 trends) and 2.23% of registered tweets (188,728). 
  • Finally, the radical ruling party drove 5.68% of the tags (5 trends) and 0.37% of the tweets (30,998). 

 

MIPPCI reinforces support for Maduro online

 

Between January 2023 and April 2024, 10.77% of the trends promoted by MIPPCI were in support of Nicolás Maduro, standing out with the highest number of accumulated messages #JuntosPorLaPatria (“Together for Homeland”) on January 10, 2023 and #MaduroLealtadYVictoria (“Maduro Loyalty and Victory”) on April 14, 2023 with close to 1,100,000 tweets each. 

 

From 2023 to the present, peaks in online campaign momentum in favor of Maduro have been reported, with August 2023 standing out with 8 trends such as #ElTipoEsMaduro (“The Guy Is Maduro”) and #ConsensoDeVenezuela (“Venezuela’s Consensus”).

 

In March 2024 this had an upturn, representing 45.28% (24 trends) of all the hashtags registered during the month in the socio-political conversation of Venezuela on X. Highlighting hashtags such as #PuebloMaduroAvanza (“Maduro’s People Moves Forward”), #RumboAlFuturo (“Headed to the Future”) and #HaciaUnPróspero2030 (“To a Prosperous 2030”), gathering more than 50,000 tweets. 

 

 

All this despite the fact that it is a governmental entity that, according to Article 222 of the General Regulations of the Organic Law of Electoral Processes, “national, state or municipal public entities may not carry out electoral publicity and propaganda and, in this sense, may not disseminate messages intended to promote, sponsor or favor a certain candidacy or organization for political purposes”.

 

Propaganda is coming from all pro-government fronts

 

The momentum of Maduro’s campaign from the ruling party has increased in the first four months of 2024. Between January and April, 50 trends were positioned in Venezuela with this narrative, 12 more than in all of 2023. 

 

Now, of the 88 trends in favor of the President and candidate for reelection between 2023 and April 2024, 62 have been electoral, totaling more than 2,472,155 tweets. That is to say, +70.45% of the hashtags in support of Maduro have been electoral

 

 

Although the MIPPCI has played a leading role, it has not been the only government agency to promote the campaign

 

The Governor’s Office of Sucre State:

It has been the second actor with more trends in favor of Maduro (14 hashtags) and more messages in this regard (174,816 tweets appx.), especially from radio spaces of its governor, Gilberto Pinto, with tags such as #SucreSeLaJuegaConNicolás (“Sucre Is Playing the game with Maduro”). This also violates the electoral regulations, specifically article 221 which is directed to officials at the service of the State and how these cannot act oriented to their political preferences.

 

In addition, two programs broadcast on open television also promote Maduro at the electoral level:

 

“Con el Mazo Dando”, hosted by Diosdado Cabello (who is also a deputy of the National Assembly) and “Con Maduro +” hosted by Nicolás Maduro himself, both broadcasted by Venezolana de Televisión, a state-owned channel. 

 

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the Tupamaro party, have also participated in this conversation with trends such as: #ElQueVaEsNicolás (“The One who goes is Maduro”) and #TupamaroApoyandoANicolas (“Tupamaro Supporting Nicolas”).

 

 

In deepening the study of these narratives, ProBox conducted a search, in a social listening tool, of trends positioned in X as: #VamosPaLanteMaduro (“Let’s go ahead with Maduro”), #DaleConMaduro (“Go with Maduro”), #MaduroEsJusticia (“Maduro Is Justice”), #MaduroNoComeCoba (“Maduro is no fool”), #MaduroEsElDeChávez (“Maduro is the Chavez’s one”), #ElQueVaEsNicolás (“The one who goes is Nicolas”), #SucreConNicolás (“Sucre with Nicolas”) and #MiPatriaEstáVenciendo (“Homeland is winning”).. 

 

As a result, 4,765 mentions were found between April 1 and April 30, 2024, with Instagram standing out as the most used platform by concentrating 72.03% of these, followed by X with 18.34%, Facebook with 6.84% and finally TikTok with the remaining 2.79%. 

 

The account that generated more activity with these trends was that of the Governor’s Office of Guárico on Facebook with 52 mentions that generated 631,696 impressions; as well as the account of the Fundación Bolivariana de Informática y Telemática de Yaracuy on Instagram, which through 43 mentions generated 37,754 impressions.  Evidencing how both governmental entities are also actively campaigning in favor of Nicolás Maduro. 

 

One of the latest developments in the electoral campaign issue is the singing contest program “Factor M”, broadcast by Tves, described as “a contest that summons Venezuelan talent to submit songs of their own authorship, to be used as the melodies of the presidential candidate’s campaign”. This program is not only broadcasted on a public television channel, but also has the participation of former ministers in its jury, as well as the PSUV deputy, Génesis Garvett, and Alex Saab’s wife, Camila Fabri; members of the negotiation table of the Government and the opposition.

 

 

 

 

Not only propaganda is promoted, the opposition is also attacked

 

Now, the electoral conversation of Chavismo is not only limited to support Maduro, but also goes hand in hand with attacks by pro-government actors, such as Diosdado Cabello, towards the opposition, mainly towards Maria Corina Machado. 

 

An example of this was documented on July 12, 2023, when Diosdado Cabello promoted the hashtag #NoTeVistasQueNoVas (“Don’t dress up, you’re not going”) with more than 7,000 tweets from “Con el Mazo Dando”, attacking Maria Corina Machado (which he repeated several times throughout the month) and highlighting her disqualification. Then, on July 19, a week later, he again promoted from his program the hashtag #YaTeDijeQueNoVas (“I told you, you are not going”) accumulated more than 19,400 tweets. 

 

 

While from the most radical sectors of Chavismo this campaign of attacks, delegitimization of the primary process and defamation against Maria Corina Machado is outlined, designed and executed. On July 27, 2023; one year and one day before the scheduled date for the elections the MIPPCI promoted #MaduroSíVa (“Maduro Is Going”) with more than 170,000 tweets; following the line of the narrative driven by Diosdado Cabello, attacking Maria Corina Machado and highlighting her political disqualification to participate in the elections with the slogan “no te vistas que no vas”.

 

In 2024 the PSUV has also pushed this hashtag, promoting #ElQueVaEsNicolás (“The one who is going is Nicolás”) between March 16 and 17 with more than 6,400 tweets, before the official nomination of Maduro as candidate; interconnecting not only the narrative between Diosdado Cabello, the MIPPCI and the PSUV, but also reflecting the campaign in support of Maduro as a counterposition of the opposition candidates’ campaign. 

 

 

Through user cross-referencing between various tags we were able to identify the following matches:

 

  • The hashtag #ConMaduroVamosPaLante (“With Maduro we are moving forward”) , promoted by MIPPCI in January 2023 and #TodoMalNoVas (“All wrong, you are not going”), promoted by Cabello in January 2024; we evidenced at least 98 accounts that made messages with both trends. When comparing the same trend of the MIPPCI with another one of Cabello’s program, #MaduroEsElDeChavez (“Maduro is Chavez’s one”), the matching accounts increase to 110.  

 

  • In January 2023 from the National Assembly account #ConMaduroSePuede (“With Maduro we can”) was promoted, when crossing the accounts that promoted this tag, again with the MIPPCI trend, #ConMaduroVamosPaLante, we identified 990 coincidences. That is, 990 accounts published messages with both tags. When repeating the same exercise with one of the trends promoted by the Sucre state government, #SucreResteadoConNicolas (“Sucre supporting Nicolas”), we found 357 accounts that also participated in the MIPPCI trend.

 

This proves the coordination of users in X to promote pro-Maduro narratives among various governmental entities; at the same time amplifying the narratives of attacks and defamation promoted by Cabello in “Con el Mazo Dando”.

 

“This is not an isolated fact. Chavismo’s communication apparatus is perfectly aligned when they have a clear strategy and, in this case, that strategy is related to positioning Nicolás Maduro as the candidate who is supposedly the guarantee of peace, while dismissing the opposition and trying to demoralize civil society”, assures the executive director of ProBox, Mariví Marín Vazquez. 

 

Institutional use of advertising

 

Despite the existence of a regulation of the National Electoral Council that establishes the guidelines for a fair electoral campaign, Chavismo ignores it, and the governing body in charge of overseeing it does not fulfill its function either. 

 

In the 2021 regional elections, ProBox demonstrated the advantage of the ruling party over the rest of the participants and the violations of the electoral regulations, a fact that was also highlighted by the European Union’s Electoral Observation Mission and the Carter Center.

 

“It is not a secret to anyone that for years the public powers have been following what the Executive dictates, that is why the country’s institutionality has cracked and we can see how with total “normality” the Ministry of Communication leads the baton of Maduro’s campaign, that from the State television channels programs like “Con el Mazo Dando” by Diosdado Cabello that disinform and attack dissidence are broadcasted and also that people are paid with State money to promote trends in social networks”, said Marín. 

 

The control of the game is evident: from disqualifying opposition candidates to bringing forward elections, the regime spares no tactics to tip the balance in its favor. Even television programs such as “Con el Mazo Dando” become propaganda weapons, attacking dissidents and spreading the official narrative. All of this continues to raise red flags in an electoral process that is just beginning.

 

“Despite the irregularities, social media continue to be an important tool for civil society to stay informed and promote civic protest,” says the executive director of ProBox. 

Proof of this is in a survey published by More Consulting with data from April 2024, which highlights how social media platforms have grown in use as the most used media by citizens to find out about political news, especially on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and X.

 

 

The ruling party has this very present in its communication strategy, just look at the use of TikTok by State figures, especially Nicolás Maduro who has 1.6 million followers on this network and has received more than 15.7 million “likes” on his publications; in which he not only uses advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, but also sticks to the “trends” that are circulating on the platform, promotes his podcast and, of course, highlights his campaign activities mixed with his presidential role.

 

 

@nicolasmadurom With effort and work we will not rest until we achieve the maximum social happiness of our People. #nicolásmadurom #social #happiness ♬ original sound – Nicolás Maduro

 

In the midst of all this, a crucial question arises: how far can Chavismo’s ambitions go before democracy crumbles completely? With an eye on the upcoming elections, Venezuela’s fate lies between the machinery of authoritarian power and the strength of citizens yearning for change.

 

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

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