In crisis-filled Venezuela, there is an active conflict between the political parties in the streets and in social media. Aside from the USA and China, Russia has also its own interests in Venezuela, and in its war to win hearts and minds, the Kremlin is using old familiar tactics from its playbook. Propastop is also interested in the developments occurring there.
Social media is an important platform for both the Russian and Chinese backed President Nicolás Maduro as well as opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is recognized by the USA and more than 50 other countries as the Venezuelan interim President. With the help of social media, they can bring their supporters together and coordinate their activities. A lesser important yet still vital aspect is also to design a suitable media image for international observers.
According to the social media management platform Hootsuite’s data, 40 percent of Venezuelan people use social media. Absolutely the most popular venue is Twitter, with a market share of nearly 79% in February and 66% in March. Its former President, Hugo Chávez, who opened a Twitter account in 2010 (@ chavezcandanga) and recommended it to others, started the rise of Twitter’s popularity in Venezuela. Since Twitter has the highest market share, the political parties in the conflict have focused on trying to manipulate this platform.
At the end of January, Twitter announced the closure of nearly 2000 Venezuelan accounts. 764 of them were focused on distributing socially divisive messages and behaved in a similar ways to the accounts of Russian Troll Factories (IRA). The remaining 1196 fake accounts were directly linked to the Maduro regime.
Money for tweeting
The DRFLab, among others has analyzed the Maduro governmentally funded Twitter campaign. Campaigns for distributing beneficial messages for Maduro on Twitter are centrally coordinated and the Venezuelan Ministry of Communications (@Mippcivzla) is giving out a „daily hashtag“, which is passed on by various methods.
In addition to everyday robot postings, fake accounts and trolling factories, Maduro has also developed a system to financially motivate the best tweeters. A separate web environment has been created where you can link your Twitter accounts to a Venezuelan ID card (Carnet de la Patria) which is used to provide social and humanitarian assistance to people in great need in the nation. The best tweeters and the day’s hashtag distributors will receive additional funds on their card with which they can get meals and commodities. The card’s official Twitter account provides instructions on how to link the card to your Twitter account accurately.
Humanitarian aid or a Trojan horse?
There is hyperinflation In Venezuela, consequently the population has a shortage of food, medicines and basic commodities. Seven million people or nearly a quarter of the Venezuelan population is in dire need of humanitarian aid, according to the UN report, which states that there is malnutrition and disease in the country. Several countries have decided to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
While the Maduro assisting Russian and Chinese aircraft with humanitarian aid (and soldiers) land without problems at Caracas airport in Venezuela, the aid from the USA and several other countries have not been admitted to the country. The aid is being stored and stacked up on the Colombian Brazilian border since mid February. It is not in Maduro’s interest to show that Guaidó and the countries supporting him can assist the people of Venezuela. This would eliminate the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people.
The European external action service EuvsDisinfo, which deals with exposing fake news, was able to analyze the 1.5 million Spanish language tweets. It concluded that the narrative about humanitarian aid is actually a Trojan horse. The Trojan horse metaphor about international humanitarian aid appeared on Twitter on 24 January and spread in traditional media as well as in politicians’ talking points.
On February 22, Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose quotation was used in the Kremlin controlled news channel RT., used the Trojan horse metaphor. On the same day, the BBC published an article entitled „Venezuelan Humanitarian Aid: real aid or a Trojan horse?“ This case illustrates how a successful information operation’s constructed meme, spread through social media is disseminated to trustworthy traditional news media’s headlines.
The fight continues
The redistribution of humanitarian aid will apparently be taken over by the international Red Cross and the political and informational effect of this issue is diminishing but the struggle for Venezuela continues in the streets and in social media. Is the poverty of the population of an oil rich country, due to the greed and incompetence heads of state or due to USA sanctions? Is the blood of patients who have died in hospitals due to widespread electrical blackouts caused by officials and politicians who have robbed the country blind or the sabotage of foreigners?
In what way do the majority of the Venezuelan people respond to these and other similar questions? This is up to whether the Maduro regime remains in power or if there is a coup d’état. The impact of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine in this struggle is not to be underestimated and that is why we should also keep an eye on Venezuelan developments.
A screenshot of the official Twitter account of the Venezuelan Ministry of the Communications and ID card.