#AlertaVenezuela is leading the way in identifying, exposing, and explaining disinformation within the context of one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest crises in recent history, where the fight for control of the information space will continue to pose a challenge for the region.
TOP STORY: A hard year for internet users in Venezuela
Internet users in Venezuela faced partial and total loss of connectivity on December 1, 2019. The disruption was not caused by censorship, as has happened previously, but by the planned maintenance of an undersea cable. Users from privately owned service providers faced connectivity issues from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (local time), which did not affect the state-provider CANTV, according to NetBlocks, a nonprofit organization that monitors internet accessibility around the world.
In 2019, internet connectivity in Venezuela has been affected by censorship, infrastructural problems, and a general failure in the country’s power structure. Disrupted access, intentional or not, frequently works in the interest of repressive regimes and, as such, is not a new phenomenon in Venezuela. Social media platforms can serve as an essential tool to connect dissidents of such regimes, so intentionally restricting access to them can serve to disrupt coordination of anti-regime activities.
In 2018, independent websites such as Armando.info and El Pitazo were intermittently blocked both on state and private internet operators. In January 2019, the DFRLab reported on internet blockages during major events against the Maduro regime, such as the January 23 protests. Connectivity restrictions increased in January 2019, when CANTV users faced issues connecting to Wikipedia after several articles were altered to portray Guaidó as the president of the country. Throughout 2019, users have had trouble connecting to Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. More recently, on November 16, the day of marches called for by Juan Guaidó, the organization Venezuela Sin Filtro reported blockages to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
TALK OF THE COUNTRY
The most engaged-with article about Venezuela published by a non-Venezuelan website was “Venezuela e Brasil lideram aumento da pobreza extrema na América Latina” (“Venezuela and Brazil lead increase in extreme poverty in Latin America”), published by Brazilian magazine Carta Capital. The article, published on November 28, is based in findings from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The piece garnered 165,800 engagements, including likes and shares on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. On Facebook, the main amplifiers were groups and pages related to human rights and social justice and opposing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The most engaged-with article about Venezuela published by a Venezuelan website was “Colombianos piden expulsar a actriz venezolana que apoyó el paro contra Iván Duque” (“Colombians ask to expel a Venezuelan actress who supported strike against [Colombian President] Iván Duque”), published by Venezuela al Día. The article reported about a controversy around the actress Marianela Gonzalez, who stated on social media that she had attended protests in Colombia. Some users replied that she was supporting the left-wing and, in that case, should go back to Venezuela to support Maduro. The article received 18,000 engagements across social media. Main amplifiers on Facebook were pages supporting Alvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia and Duque’s ally, as well as pages supporting the military in Colombia.
On Facebook, the most engaged-with post mentioning Venezuela was one from the page “Humans of New York.” The post features a young Venezuelan who was forced to leave the country to look for better working opportunities. It garnered more than 88,000 likes and almost 3,000 shares.
HASHTAG OF THE WEEK
#TIAR (“Tratado Interamericano de Asistencia Recíproca”)
Amid protests against the government, Colombia is hosting a meeting of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (often referred to by its Spanish acronym, TIAR), an agreement signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro among 21 countries of the Americas. The signatories to the treaty will reconvene in Bogotá on December 3, 2019. The crisis in Venezuela will be one of the main topics of the agenda.
On Twitter, #TIAR reached the trending topics in Venezuela and Colombia on December 2. The hashtag garnered 23,671 mentions. Accounts ostensibly located in Venezuela – location data is voluntarily and can be manually edited – comprised the highest users of the hashtag and, for the most part, discussed the possible implications of the meeting. The post (archive) that garnered the most retweets mentioning #TIAR came from @josetorohardy, an economist from Caracas, calling for Venezuelans to unite in this moment. The tweet reached 5,100 retweets and 3,200 likes.
“Mañana es la reunión del #TIAR en Bogotá, Colombia, los países que lo conforman están conscientes de la amenaza continental que significa Nicolás Maduro. Su dictadura es el principal obstáculo para la paz y prosperidad del hemisferio.”
“Tomorrow [December 3, 2019] is the #TIAR meeting in Bogotá, Colombia. The countries that signed [the treaty] are aware about the continental threat of Nicolás Maduro. His dictatorship is the main obstacle for the peace and prosperity in the hemisphere.” – Julio Borges, Presidential Envoy for Foreign Affairs for the interim government of Venezuela, posted (archive) on December 2, 2019. The tweet was published one day before the TIAR meeting in Bogotá. The post garnered 365 retweets and 383 likes.
“Queremos convocar para el día de mañana a una gran marcha contra la propuesta presentada o que van a presentar algunos países de convocar a un organismo aggressor.”
“We want to call for tomorrow [December 3, 2019] a big march against the proposal presented, or the proposal that some countries will present to convene an aggressor organism.” – Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent National Assembly and Maduro’s second-in-command, said on December 2 during a conference press in Caracas, Venezuela. The statement referred to the 18 countries that will assist to the TIAR meeting in Bogotá on December 3, 2019.
WHAT WE ARE READING
The December 1 Reuters article explains the story of a young man, Venezuelan Daniels Herrera, and his journey in Bogotá amid the Colombian protests. “[He] kept quiet on his long walk home from work following violent protests in the Colombian capital Bogotá last week, fearful his Venezuelan accent would give him away.” While the protests in Colombia were mainly peaceful, public unrest and xenophobia narratives have arisen in the Colombian capital.
DFRLab and ACLatAm IN THE NEWS
Luiza Bandeira, digital research assistant for Latin America at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, spoke with Tal Qual about Twitter accounts supportive of the Maduro regime engaging in disinformation, and sending thousands of messages to amplify harmful narratives to influence conversations online.
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