Photo: Today Venezuela retrieved
Since the late comandante eterno opened the @chavezcandanga account in 2010, we’ve seen how chavismo embraced Twitter not just to promote their own agenda, but to obstruct their political enemies. Last year, a study by Venezuelan communications researcher Iria Puyosa proved how their sustained efforts to control the overall flow of information have paid off.
"Twitter as a battlefield for the survival of Chavism". #LASA2019 Tendencias a favor del chavismo promovidas por el gobierno de Maduro y propagadas por agentes extranjeros turcos, estadounidenses, españoles, nicaragüenses y rusos.#InfoDisorders #desinformación pic.twitter.com/wgFodRW0KK
— Iria Puyosa (@NSC) May 30, 2019
In recent months, a whole new element has come into attention: the growing intervention of foreign actors to reinforce the diffusion of distorted, or fake messages and trends.
Last month, Puyosa explained how Russian propaganda made its way into the Venezuelan Twittersphere and, during the recent congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), held in Boston, she presented the findings of an ongoing investigation.
It’s not just Russia. There’s a broad coalition of both state-sponsored participants and ideological sympathizers gathered to help the hegemony in their quest to drown actual information and debate regarding Venezuela. “The most evident change is the transparent intervention of foreign agents in the Venezuelan conversation on Twitter,” Puyosa told CC.
This assistance from abroad has the downside of revealing itself if it’s observed up close.
One of the biggest waves of online support comes from one of the most open backers of Maduro: Erdogan’s Turkey. The use of both legitimate accounts and bots to give support has been quite evident. The AK Trolls (at the service of the ruling AKP party) are also key.
But not only governments are getting involved: the Catalonian independence movement has done its part in Spain, including pushing the hashtag #NoEnMiNombre at the request of the Embassy in Madrid. Interestingly enough, in late 2017, the Spanish government denounced that Venezuelan (along with Russian players) were behind a disinformation campaign after the illegal referendum in Catalonia, and the failed unilateral independence declaration that came right after.
The U.S. has been another active digital battleground: Maduro’s Foreign Ministry created the #TrumpHandsOffVenezuela hashtag, to rally support from activists and propagandists over there, including organizations which have received support from Caracas since 2004.
But as effective that this has been to exacerbate the chavista narrative worldwide, this assistance from abroad has the downside of revealing itself if it’s observed up close. One of the patterns that Puyosa found was the “infiltration of content that incorporates topics that are polarizing in other countries but are unrelated to Venezuelan national politics.”
There’s a broad coalition of both state-sponsored participants and ideological sympathizers gathered to help the hegemony.
But what about Russia, you might ask? Well, that part of the investigation is still in progress but Puyosa confirmed to CC that their disinformation efforts around here are not new: “There’s evidence of Russian propaganda about Venezuela (in 2017’s cycle of protests) and in 2018 (the May 20th phony presidential election).”
And they’ve been way more active since February of this year.
The expansion of online Russian disturbance into other nations’ politics is now going outside of their direct zone of influence, like Eastern Europe, by reaching into regions like Latin America and even Africa. Last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller reiterated their active meddling during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as found on the report of his two-year investigation.
The work of Puyosa and others about the methods used by the hegemony to dominate the Twitter conversation around Venezuela prove how they asphyxiate our public sphere. Their latest censorship actions at home serve as a major complement.
It’s no coincidence that one of the key words the hegemony likes to use in their digital offensive is “loyalty.” After all, there’s a very fine line between loyalty and submission, and that’s where their true goal stays.