Venezuela is considered one of the five countries in the world where the state has developed the greatest capacity to implement online advertising operations. The Venezuelan state has been carrying out cyberbullying operations using trolls since at least 2009 and automated operations to stimulate opinion trends since 2010. The Covid-19 pandemic has been another territory for war operations information carried out by the Venezuelan pro-government communications apparatus.
In a state of alert due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Venezuelan state continued its systematic practices of violating the civil and political rights of citizens, in this case health workers, patients, migrants and journalists. Doctors and nurses have been harassed for reporting the collapse of the public health system, including in private communications like their WhatsApp status or voice notes originally intended for friends, which went viral.
One of the emblematic cases is the arrest of Julio Molina, a 72-year-old doctor, accused of sowing panic, causing stress in the community and inciting hatred. The arbitrary detention was carried out under the pretext of the unconstitutional hate law, after Molina reported that the Núñez Tovar hospital in the east of the country did not have supplies to deal with the emergency.
Although it appears that campaigns to promote information disruption only concern the digital ecosystem, in the Venezuelan context, there is evidence for the existence of information disorder strategies using traditional media. , at least since 2002. As part of the strategy associated with the information unrest with Covid-19, open-signal television, especially channels under the control of the Venezuelan state, has often been used to introduce misleading, manipulated or propagandistic content.
The second channel for the distribution of this type of content by the ruling party was Twitter, using official public administration networks; the third channel was WhatsApp, especially with the use of voice notes that simulated leaks; and the fourth medium was the government channel on Telegram, through which operational orders are sent daily to position official beacons. Finally, the official beacons are supported by tens of thousands of Patria system users who are activated as patriotic tweeters to qualify for the dollar bonuses that are distributed among those who use the daily beacons.
On Twitter, we have observed a tendency to introduce disinformation operations through comments in replies to popular journalist tweets, using inauthentic accounts. We also noted that inauthentic accounts often use pseudonyms, and their profile pictures often appear to be generated by artificial intelligence. There are also indications of the use of troll farms and astroturf operations, which simulate the organic opinions of citizens or grassroots activists, but actually respond to lines of propaganda aimed at presenting the official management of the epidemic as effective.
There have been disinformation operations that start with rumors or leaks on WhatsApp, generate polarized debates on Twitter, and end with denials on official communication channels, as happened with the biased news from the installation of crematoria in the parking lot of the entertainment center. of El Poliedro, in Caracas.
Among the most significant information disturbances recorded in Venezuela in the year of the pandemic, the stigma of returning Venezuelan migrants as “biological weapons” against the country stands out. Nicolás Maduro and other officials in his administration have gone so far as to say on official television broadcasts that return migrants are “biological weapons” brought into Venezuela by Colombian President Iván Duque.
On May 20, 2021, Nicolás Maduro publicly accused the Colombian government of “contaminating” Venezuela with bus cargoes from infected people. Maduro’s declaration marked the start of a government policy of stigmatizing migrants. The official orders were to send an email to those who had returned, to mark homes suspected of having migrants and to concentrate the migrants in detention centers. In addition, an official speech incriminating bioterrorism has been maintained against Colombia and Brazil, countries accused of having infiltrated the virus through their borders with Venezuela.
Another constant over the past six months has been the negative or positive evaluation of vaccines based on where they were originally developed and not based on scientific criteria. The arrival in the country of the first batch of Russian Sputnik vaccines was celebrated with the “hashtag of the day” #SputnikVEnVenezuela, circulated by the official communications apparatus, including the main leaders of the PSUV, military structures such as zones operations for Integral Defense (ZODI) and Strategic Regions for Integral Defense (REDI).
In contrast, at the end of March 2021, the pro-government media apparatus deployed a biased information campaign to justify its refusal to let the AztraSeneca vaccine into Venezuela, which the National Assembly led by pro-democratization forces had achieved. to achieve. . obtained through the COVAX mechanism of the Pan American Health Organization.
The official communications device, with Nicolás Maduro himself as its spokesperson, has also been dedicated to disseminating pseudo-scientific content in a country with limited access to diagnostic and treatment services for Covid19. During the first cycle of contagion in Venezuela, through state channels, they intensively encouraged the use of a homemade mixture with lemongrass or lemon balm as the main ingredient believed to cure Covid19. On national radio and television, Nicolás Maduro promoted the Sirio Quintero formula, made up of six ingredients: lemongrass, ginger, black pepper, lemon peel, lemon juice, honey and elderberry, as a remedy for the coronavirus. .
At the beginning of 2021, the official communication device launched the Carvativir brand as a miracle cure for drops, the active ingredient of which is isotimol, which is widely used as a mouthwash and in antiparasitic drugs. For the commercial launch of Carvativir, pseudoscience legitimation strategies were combined (using a fake scientific article published on the Scribd document-sharing platform), appeal to natural health markets and appeal to religious beliefs (secondary name “miracle drops of José Gregorio Hernández”, in reference to the Venezuelan doctor being canonized by the Catholic Church).
* Most of the data mentioned in this article comes from the study: Informational disorders spread in Venezuela, via WhatsApp and social networks, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, (covid.infodesorden.org/) from Puyosa; Madriz; Alvarado; Andueza; Cordoba; And Azpúrua (2021).
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