By Rodolfo A. Rico

In the regime’s propaganda war for the minds of Venezuelans, the Bolivarian National Guard boosts articles from state-owned TV on Facebook and Twitter in a non-organic manner.

On an eleventh flight from China to Venezuela, 500,000 doses of the Vero Cell vaccine manufactured by Sinopharm arrived. The plane also carried 17 additional tons of supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. It was March 1 at 11:00 pm. 

The event was covered by major news agencies, in particular by EFE and Europa Press – both among the top results when running a Google search from Venezuela – also by TV channels CNN en Español and RT Actualidad, as well as Sputnik Mundo website. However, it was not published by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua on its website. Its last piece on Chinese flights to Venezuela is from February 24, when the tenth flight landed. Instead, what we do find is a news item on how China is supporting Latin America in its fight against COVID-19, which reinforces the narrative of that country as the power most engaged in international cooperation over this issue. Últimas Noticias daily spared no praise with the headline “Chinese vaccines sweep most of the globe”.

Table 1: Media outlets and news items

Venezolana de Televisión (VTV)Supplies and the first batch of 500,000 vaccines developed by China against COVID-19 arrive in Venezuela
TelesurVenezuela receives 500,000 doses of Chinese Covid vaccine
CNNVenezuela received 500,000 doses of Chinese vaccine from Sinopharm
EFEVenezuela receives half a million doses of covid-19 vaccine from China
Europa PressVenezuela receives half a million doses of Chinese COVID-19 vaccine
Finanzas DigitalVenezuela to start vaccinating teachers with Chinese Sinopharm vaccine
Últimas NoticiasChinese vaccines sweep most of the globe
Actualidad RTVenezuela receives the first 500,000 doses of Sinopharm’s covid-19 vaccine
SputnikFirst batch of Chinese Vero Cell vaccine arrives in Venezuela

The data were obtained with the Crowdtangle plugin for Chrome on two different days: March 3 and March 15. We downloaded data shared on Facebook for all accounts and only those on Twitter for the Venezuela-based multistate channel Telesur and state-owned television VTV. Twitter data is only available for ten days prior to the search.

Military orchestration to promote the vaccine

The most interesting finding is in the data downloaded from the VTV piece shared on Twitter. There we find that the article was shared by 59 Venezuelan military accounts, in all instances from the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, GNB). Many of the accounts also had face mask (😷) and thumbs up (👍) emojis, which hints at being created on instructions of some kind. Most are accounts that appear to be institutional. There are also several personal others of commanders and lieutenants.

Table 2: Sample military accounts

Twitter accountFollowersInteractions
Antidrogas GNB3,09022
GNB Sucre 😷👍10,64121
GNB D- 811 Faja Petrolífera 😷👍1,60020
D.V.C N° 41 GNB😷👍1,88515

The piece by VTV was also the most shared on Facebook. Two military accounts also stand out: Milicia Bolivariana and, although the latter account is an independent Colombian magazine covering security and defense issues. 

Table 3: Facebook sites sharing the piece by VTV 

Facebook Site (page or group) FollowersInteractions
Original Name in SpanishTranslation into English
VTVCanal8VTV Channel 8601,6871,490
Seguidores de Ernesto Che GuevaraFollowers of Ernesto Che Guevara19,10119
Los revolucionarios de Chávez y BolívarRevolutionaries for Chávez and Bolívar6366
RT (Noticias internacionales en Español [grupo no oficial])RT (International news in Spanish – [non-official group])12,6750
Alcaldía Socialista Del Municipio TrujilloSocialist Trujillo Municipality Mayor’s Office1,1860
Viajes Maracaibo Raya MaicaoTravel to Maracaibo Raya Maicao105,4930

It is worth reminding that, organically (unpaid), an article posted on Facebook – especially a link – does not reach over 5% of the audience of a page on that social media platform. On the other hand, it is assumed that groups’ reach – several are listed – is somewhat higher, because people gather around and relate over interests more than on a page or website that has only been liked. Therefore, when we see a post shared on Facebook and its total number of followers, what we should be aware of is the fact that it will not reach over 5% of its followers, unless it is sponsored. If people mark more likes, comments, and shares, that reach can increase. 

Twitter’s algorithm works differently and has other considerations for its organic reach, such as topicality and the number of accounts posting on the topic in a specific period. However, not all followers of an account see all its tweets either. Therefore, the fact that a group of accounts from the same organization (in this case GNB), with similar characteristics such as emojis, jointly share the same articles is noteworthy. Furthermore, this goes against Twitter and Facebook policies. In fact, when we checked Twitter accounts by name, we found that some with identical or similar name had been closed by Twitter, but were reopened.

The GNB Twitter accounts are spread throughout the country in the states of Monagas, Mérida, Miranda, Zulia, Bolívar, Aragua, Barinas, and Lara in addition to the Orinoco Oil Belt and the Venezuelan coast. Moreover, there can be several accounts in a state, something relevant because this strategy also helps to boost trends locally. Let us remind that these are only the Twitter accounts linked to a single article shared. Of course, there may be more sharing websites with the same news other than that of Venezuelan state-owned channel.

Venezuela’s GNB appears to be involved in orchestrating information and disinformation campaigns. As U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917: “The first casualty when war comes is the truth”. Chavismo, the regime’s political doctrine, has given numerous signs of using an internal enemy strategy against dissidents in the country. It regards information exclusively as propaganda, since it claims to be waging a Third Generation war, a battle for the minds of Venezuelans. In this war, the GNB seems to be the vanguard (yes, guerrilla style) of the National Armed Forces.  

Medianalisis Cotejo Fake News En Este País