Bots Are Leading the Online Conversation Against the UCV

This week Maduro announced measures that affect Venezuela’s most important university. Here’s how we are talking about it on social media and who could benefit from that

This week, Probox Politwitter newsletter highlighted the pandemic, the rise of the prices of gasoline, the Ávila, and of course, Alex Saab. Still, the most polarized online conversation of the week was Maduro’s night-time visit to the Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas. 

It’s important to understand how inorganic promotion through false accounts is shaping the online conversation against the country’s major public university, and how civil society reacts with digital protests. What’s inorganic promotion? When a hashtag is repeated by automated or fake accounts to saturate a conversation and impose a specific trend.  

So, What Happened?

  1. October 19: The former president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, was appointed as the new minister of University Education.
  2. October 20: A small group of students protested the appointment of Lucena and the fact the UCV authorities didn’t comment on the matter.
  3. October 21: Maduro toured Ciudad Universitaria on Thursday night, to allegedly oversee the renovations his government is making. In a video shared on his Twitter account, he is shown next to Cilia Flores, Jacqueline Farías, and vice president Delcy Rodríguez.
  4. October 24: Maduro appointed Faría as the protector of the UCV. 
  5. October 26: Activists, professors, and university authorities protest Maduro’s new appointments and demand respect for universities’ autonomy. 
  6. October 27: UCV rector Cecilia García Arocha deplored Maduro, Rodríguez, Flores, Jacqueline Farías’s visit to the Ciudad Universitaria without notifying the university board. Arocha also spoke against the appointment of a protector: “It doesn’t exist in the Constitution or in the University Law”.

Who’s Talking About It on Twitter? 

  • This week, entities of the Maduro regime positioned the highest number of trending topics. The Ministry of Information carried out the most inorganic conversations by averaging 61.63% of messages made by potentially automated accounts. 
  • The ministry-promoted hashtag #MaduroRescataLaUCV had 61.01% of inorganic interaction.
  • Civil society protested with the hashtag #LaUniVESeRespeta, which had 2,394 tweets, 62.4% of which were posted by real users. This hashtag was launched in a digital campaign of several student federations, mainly from the UCV, demanding respect for university autonomy.
  • The most aggressive and misleading trending topic was under the hashtag #ArochaBorracha, which had 59.37% of inorganicity and was promoted by presumably fake accounts. This trending topic also promoted a photograph of Cecilia García Arocha drinking a cocktail at the Eurobuilding hotel and coincided with criticism of the lack of a statement by the UCV, after Maduro’s visit.
  • This hashtag against Arocha was promoted by anonymous accounts that are known for defaming and spreading misinformation on Twitter, attacking Juan Guaidó or Leopoldo López and sharing propaganda supporting Alex Saab. “This network positions trending topics by slandering or attacking and then deleting the tweets, so as not to leave traces of the origin of the trending topic,” says Probox director María Virginia Marín. 

You can subscribe to PoliTwitter here