Venezuela Is Going To War… On TikTok

With influencers, fake invasion videos and even claims of wildlife trafficking, the Venezuelan government and its allies are launching a full-fledged TikTok operation to promote its Esequibo narrative and the might of the Venezuelan Armed Force

For most of the time I’ve had the TikTok app downloaded on my phone, I’ve only used it to watch cat videos my girlfriend sends me. Other than that, I had never sat down to scroll the For You Page and see what kind of crazy content the algorithm sent my way, until I did just a few weeks ago.

Despite only ever having used the app to watch those cat videos, my feed was completely drowned out by videos posted by the different branches of Venezuela’s national security apparatus. 

The National Guard, Bolivarian National Police, the Army, DGCIM, CICPC, CONAS and every service branch you can think of showed up on my screen. Most videos were focused on that classical tactical style that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s ever heard the term “tacticool” or seen videos by youtuber Garand Thumb. Poses, training, guns, vehicles, and tactical aesthetics made up most of the content showing up on my screen each time I refreshed it. I say most, because there was something else: war propaganda.

The tail end of 2023 saw a considerable increase in tensions between Venezuela and Guyana over the disputed Esequibo region.These last few weeks have been full of threats, rumors of suspicious troop movements and an excessive amount of diplomatic communiqués. All of that has led to the inevitable production of an almost infinite amount of content “analyzing” the military capabilities of both nations, alongside another trend of “content creators” who have been posting to TikTok assuring that the war already started. Both groups of content can safely be labeled as “disinformation”, due to the lackluster quality of the information being parroted. 

On the one hand, we have the analyst type offering up takes like this one, where they ensure a Venezuelan Su-30MK2 can “only” be defeated by an American F-22 Raptor. Military platforms aren’t Yu-Gi-Oh cards where combat encounters are decided by which card has the highest attack points. In real life, the quality of the pilot’s training, their experience in similar situations, the precision of the information they’re working with, the preparedness of their support infrastructure, and a multiplicity of additional factors are all vital to deciding the outcome, it doesn’t come down to who has the best “toy” on paper.

Nobody gets to pull out Exodia and wipe the field. Although maybe it’s my fault for expecting deep military analysis from someone who couldn’t be bothered to Google how to spell “Sukhoi”. 

The second set of cheap lies being spread on the social network is that which shows us a war that hasn’t started. My favorite video here is this one, where an amphibious landing exercise in Falcón State (seen here) is sold to us as an actual landing in the Esequibo (or “Ezequibo” according to the Evangelical account that posted the video).

Empezó la operación Esequibo es nuestro Dios tome el control y este conflicto armado no se extienda por mucho tiempo y tampoco nuestra nación sea dañada . oremos guerrer@s del señor #noticias #noticiashoy #operacionesequibo #Esequibo #Guyanayvenezuela #venezuela #guyana #conflicto

♬ Dramatic Military – Faid rafanda

If Venezuela crossed the border in armored cars and fighter jets then we wouldn’t be hearing about it on TikTok: it’d be on state TV, forced on us through one cadena nacional. That said, this obviously fake video has 77 thousand likes, and has been seen 1.7 million times at time of writing. To put it in perspective: the number of views, although not necessarily viewers, exceeds the population of all the cities in Venezuela except Caracas, Maracaibo and Valencia. Even more impressive, perhaps, is this post with over 3 million views and 71 thousand likes which claims a Venezuelan fighter jet was shot down by the Guyanese using low quality video game footage as evidence.

Another note in the war propaganda front: there seems to be a widespread belief that Venezuela would immediately win any conflict it enters against Guyana. Here we find videos like this one where the AI narrator claims that members of the Guyana Defense Force are “playing at being soldiers”. This accusation of LARPing is incredibly ironic coming from an account called “Spetnaz23” that spends most of its time fawning over that oh-so-disproven myth of Russian military superiority. It also carries the ironic implication that, while Guyana doesn’t know what war is like, Venezuela does.

Venezuela’s armed forces have no real combat experience against well-organized and well-supplied conventional forces. Most of the nation’s experience is down to unilateral exercises carried out on the back of internal doctrine that’s never been put into practice, as well as counterinsurgency and policing operations. Our Su-30s have never had to intercept a hostile contact, our S-300s have probably never been test-fired and our T-72 crew ended up in last place during the tank biathlon in Russia’s 2022 Army Games

That video hyping up Venezuela’s war capabilities has 157 thousand likes, and 4.7 million views. Again, the number of views exceeded the official population of every Venezuelan city. 

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this sort of thing happens. The government does more than anyone to ensure that misinformation spreads like wildfire, something that has contributed greatly to creating this ecosystem of alternative media that lies for clicks, views, and likes. On the very same day that the Esequibo referendum was taking place, vice president Delcy Rodríguez tweeted out a video where she claimed a group of indigenous Venezuelans had taken down Guyana’s flag on the Sierra Paracaima in the Esequibo and replaced it with a Venezuelan flag.

Some days prior to that, on November 24th, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali had attended a flag raising ceremony where his nation’s banner ended up flying near the internationally-recognized border with Bolívar State. Obviously, perhaps even as intended, many believed that the flag Ali hung up was the same one that had been taken down in Rodríguez’s video. Thanks to some initial suspicions by EsPaja, and a Bellingcat investigation, we now know that the two flags are different with Ali’s having been hung in the Esequibo and Rodríguez’s video having been filmed well within Bolívar State.

Now, as Bellingcat points out, why was a Guyanese flag waving within Bolívar? It’s easy to suspect that somebody may have hung up the Guyanese flag just to film it being taken down but that’s just speculation.

There are also attempts to paint Guyana as “deserving” of Venezuelan armed action, not just using the usual “they’re stealing our land” justification either, but by accusing the Guyanese government of turning a blind eye to the ecological devastation ongoing in the region. This video, with 166 thousand views, tries to tug at our heartstrings by showing us the state of illegal mining and animal trafficking in the territory, serious issues which have plagued the region for years. The implication in videos like that one is that something must be done about Guyana’s actions (or inaction) and that, perhaps, if the land was in Venezuelan hands then we could stop the destruction. It’s not only that they’ve taken our rightful territory, the argument goes, but they are also devastating our wildlife. 


Si eres de #Venezuela ayuda a compartir para que esté #video llegue a todo el #Mundo | #Viral #Esequibo

♬ Suspense, horror, piano and music box – takaya

Guyana’s complicity in the Esequibo’s environmental destruction –which is worse than in southern Venezuela, according to NGO SOS Orinoco– is obviously wrong but it would be very ironic for Chavista supporters to pretend that they have the moral high ground on this issue. Let’s not forget that the effects of the Arco Minero in Bolívar State is completely down to Venezuela’s own actions, no one else’s. Regarding illegal animal trafficking, well, the Ministry of Ecosocialism has been accused of wildlife trafficking by investigative journalists, so there’s not a lot of moralizing PSUV and their supporters can do. 

This push to get people to pay attention to Guyana’s wrongdoings isn’t new, of course. During the run up to the Esequibo referendum we saw a sudden uptick in videos from TikTok influencers like Daniela Barranco, and a whole batch of out-of-the-blue young Esequibo content (propaganda) creators wearing the government’s campaign mech and speaking in Gen Z slang, suddenly interested in the topic. We even got to see fake propaganda videos which allegedly showed local musicians (like members of Tomates Fritos and Caramelos de Cianuro) who supported the referendum, even after some of the artists themselves denied they had consented to the use of their name and image.

Although Maduro and Ali have already met and promised to cool off the rhetoric, the Venezuelan government hasn’t let slip any chance to start the propaganda show back up. Just a few days ago, the Royal Navy’s HMS Trent paid Guyana a visit in order to carry out joint training exercises. Caracas spotted an opportunity to whip everyone up again and responded with a massive multi-domain training exercise involving the navy, the army, the air force and multiple specialized units like paratroopers and marines. The name for the exercise? “General Domingo Antonio Sifontes”, the man the Venezuelan military put in charge of the Esequibo region back in the 19th century.

While the Esequibo referendum may be over, Venezuela’s expected to reply to Guyana’s allegations before the International Court of Justice by April 2024, meaning that tensions are surely to spike at least once more prior to this year’s presidential elections. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop on the propaganda front. I’m sure we’re yet to see some more videos calling for war and others criticizing the government for not following up on their belligerent narrative.

Oh and, if you clicked on the example links in this article, sorry for ruining your TikTok algo.