Photo: retrieved

With traditional media like newspapers under control, the government wants the same in the digital world: from arresting social network users like AereoMeteo, to tampering with access to key websites like Google, the communicational hegemony keeps pushing through.

But one of its larger objectives has been controlling the conversation on what German philosopher Jürgen Habermas called the “public sphere”. Now a brand new study is here, describing how this effort is being made.

With traditional media like newspapers under control, the government wants the same in the digital world.

Venezuelan researcher Iria Puyosa and the Observatory of (Mis)information and Propaganda in Latin America released last month a report titled “Chavismo’s Information War Strategies on Twitter,” in which a large number of the State’s official accounts and organized users were followed during the period of May to August 2018, especially regarding the May 20 “election”.

“Three strategies used by the Venezuelan government on Twitter during this period were identified as the following:

1) Coordination of official and automated accounts to assure reaching the daily trending topics;

2) Promotion of distracting hashtags accompanied by emotional, scandalous, misleading, offensive, and/or false messages through cyborg and bot accounts;

3) Hijacking of opposition hashtags to distort their messages and interfere in the conversations of the various opposition communities.”

For example, the large bulk of government accounts (from different branches) focused in pushing favorable hashtags to dominate the list of popular trending topics. Key players on this were accounts related to the CLAP food program and the carnet de la patria.

This shows how the government quickly spreads their messages about events like the alleged drone attack of August 4, and the “confession” of jailed deputy Juan Resquens days later.

More worrisome is another strategy at work: the coordinated diffusion of fake news and misinformation, to disrupt discussions in social networks over issues of public interest, by meddling with opposition-related groups and positioning false accounts and phony hashtags.

The “fake news” phenomenon is already making inroads around the region.

The “fake news” phenomenon is already making inroads around the region: One of the most visible cases is Brazil, which celebrates a contentious presidential election this Sunday. 24 media outlets joined forces to push back by establishing the fact-checking site Comprova.

But the effort of countering misinformation cannot fall on media outlets alone. Social media users should be cautious with the news they handle and share, even if they don’t have the means to check the accuracy of every tweet, viral video or voice note. Look for trusted sources and be responsible. Especially regarding Venezuela, where those options are very limited.

The full report is available in both English and Spanish. It’s well worth a read.

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