Twitter accounts of Venezuela’s regime loyalists boost non-organic trends about the Colombian social conflict in a clear attempt to influence their antithetic neighboring country. The findings, below.
By Rodolfo A. Rico
Did Chavista Internet troops make their presence felt in the trends regarding the Colombian protest? They did, and with hashtags reaching beyond description of events, pointing to the notion of resistance (#CaliResiste, #ColombiaResiste [#CaliResists, #ColombiaResists]). Other more strongly worded hashtags show a clearly conflictive objective (#SOSColombiaNosEstanMatando, #DuqueAsesino [#SOSColombiaWeAreGettingKilled, #DuqueMurderer]).
How to identify the influence of the so-called Bolivarian revolution on social media across the public conversation regarding protests in Colombia?
This review was performed when the Colombian protests have been staged for over a month. Therefore, we are only showing the tip of the iceberg, from a limited number of tweets and probably when this online campaign being studied is in decline.
We identified the dominant hashtags per the Trendinalia index between May 29 and June 7. Since we did not capture data from the start of the protest, we only gathered downloadable data based on Twitter’s application programming interface (API) from third-party tools. In this case, we used Hoaxy to download connections for a hashtag and the app Vicinitas to download tweets for a specific hashtag. Hoaxy generally identifies slightly over 1,000 connections per search and Vicinitas downloads about 2,000 tweets. All Hoaxy downloads are search results for #ParoNacional [#NationalStrike] + Date (day + month’s initial according to date sequencing in Spanish). In this way, we retrieved from #ParoNacional29M [#NationalStrike29M (March 29)] to #ParoNacional7J [#NationalStrike7J (June 7)]
Riding the trending wave
To position a trend, you must ride on a pre-existing one, especially if you don’t have all the logistics for disinformation on social media available in Venezuela. In this case, we started from the premise that official accounts of government agencies would not be used in a campaign of this kind. Therefore, we did data matching: We downloaded tweets with a specific hashtag, then we filtered those stating Venezuela as their location (on Twitter, location is stated, not geolocated, unless the account specifically grants permission).
The resulting accounts that were downloaded are 176, about four trends indicating intent: #ColombiaResiste [#ColombiaResists], #CaliResiste [#CaliResists], #DuqueAsesino [#DuqueMurderer], and #SOSColombiaNosEstanMatando [#SOSColombiaWeAreGettingKilled]. The bios of these accounts clearly state their origin. Below, we find a partial selection for illustrative purposes:
|Account Name||Twitter Bio|
|Mirove||Mothergrandmother, CPA. #SiMeSiguesTeSigo [#FollowForFollow].,ki🤪 #VenezuelaTeAmo [#ILoveUVenezuela] 🇻🇪.|
|Ricardo Sánchez Páez||Journalist, Revolutionary, and Chavista forever, and my vote goes for Maduro for sure.|
|Odiseachavista||I am a very, very senior citizen and, like the vast majority of Venezuela, revolutionary, humanist, anti-imperialist, socialist, and deeply CHAVISTA.|
|Maria l||#CHAVEZVIVENMI [#CHAVEZLIVESINME]. His legacy will always be part of this beautiful people!!! CHAVEZ, the heart of Venezuela!!! Whatever they say, I love you. Alí Primera|
|mireya loyo||VENEZUELAN. CHAVISTA. CHRISTIAN ANTI-IMPERIALIST- BOLIVARIANIST [sic] -LOVER OF GOD AND JESUS. I DO NOT FOLLOW ANTI-CHAVISTAS.|
|Erick Salas||Beekeeping and breeding of native stingless bees, a production potential and alternative, with eco-friendly spirit for the Amazon ecosystems.|
|🇻🇪 Irma 25K 🇻🇪 EN UNIÓN-CÍVICO-MILITAR-POLICIAL||Tweeting COLECTIVO [pro-regime clash group] #TropaUnidaPorElAgua [#TroopInUnityForWater] ANÍBAL NAZOA National Journalism Award 2015.|
#FANB #GNB @PartidoPSUV @dcabellor @IrmaPsuvVE #Bitcoin
|Maria||To achieve success, it has always been indispensable to walk the path of sacrifice. LAWYER OF THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA.|
|Miguelangel prada||A man of awakened conscience is a free man; he is a man capable of knowing, by himself, the path that will lead him to final liberation.|
|Aura Romero||100% Chavista Chavez|
|ana Martinez||I greet you most affectionately and leave my blessing mainly to all those who strive day by day to support the neediest.|
|Soy revolución||“No longer I am myself, I am the people” Hugo Chávez.|
|Katty 💋 43K 🇻🇪 Mega Elecciones #21Nov 2021||.Tweeting COLECTIVO #TropaUnidaPorElAgua [#TroopInUnityForWater] ANÍBAL NAZOA National Journalism Award 2015.#PublicService #Advertising #Cryptocurrencies #Bitcoin.|
|Leonardo López||🇻🇪🌎 Bolivarian Revolution.To survive, humankind has to free itself from capitalism. ✊🏿|
What could be particularly interesting is the interaction of these accounts featuring less radical trends, but of greater scope, such as those mentioned regarding the national strike (e.g., #ParoNacional29M). It is a way to position more radical trends. We found traces of the presence of some accounts – not all 176 – with more radical trends among rather general ones.
The other way in which the Venezuelan digital troop makes its presence felt in the conversation regarding the Colombian protest is by retweeting. Sharing conflictive, radical content, with photos and videos. Although they can be qualified as whistleblowing of human rights violations, radicalized individuals from outside Colombia share these media files to give visibility to the worst of the Colombian situation.
Although our review focused on those accounts self-described to be Venezuelan regarding their location, one of them stood out with 69 tweets, retweets, or quotes, belonging to a Venezuelan who claims to write from New York, engages on a first-name basis with intellectuals of Chavismo such as Roberto Hernández Montoya, is on a follow-for-follow campaign, posts many photos and scathing remarks. His name is Prometeo (Prometheus), although the handle is @AntonioM646. Among the accounts that we were able to identify as Venezuelan, his is one of those with the highest impact because of its messages.
Cyborgs, not bots
We define cyborg accounts as those that share many of the traits of bots, but are managed by humans who act in an orchestrated manner to run campaigns. They may also be automated to an extent, for instance, to retweet some accounts. Most of the accounts found seem to be of this type, with individuals managing them behind the scenes.
In summary, whether organized expressly or not, there are clear attempts by Chavismo to influence the politics of other countries, in this case Colombia. The objective is to look for opportunities to meddle with the internal politics of the country that has been its antithesis for the last twenty years and destabilize it.
More than a compliant military troop, it is possible that this campaign has been more like the troupe of circuses and theater companies tagging along Chavismo everywhere with their opinions.