Twitter accounts of military institutions and officers orchestrate posts and boost trends, in violation of the Venezuelan constitution and the terms of that social media service, to frame a dominant story in their propaganda war.

By Rodolfo A. Rico

In the Information Age, the conflict is, as never before, about controlling the minds of citizens. The narrative of how events are perceived is essential to power and counter-power players. Framing, which – in a simplified definition – is the point of view held by a group based on a set of common values, is more relevant than ever.

‘Netwar’ is the struggle for this change of perception by means of (digital or non-digital) networks. For the last 20 years, Venezuela has been immersed in a conflict that seeks to replace the narrative of democracy with that of revolution. Not just any kind of revolution, but one of civil-military nature, the union of the army and the people as the late president and initiator of the Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chávez, put forward many times.

It is not a new idea that a war is not won exclusively with weapons. As the British baron and pacifist Arthur Ponsonby pointed out in the aftermath of World War I, “[w]hen war is declared, truth is the first casualty”. Consequently, when in a political conflict envisaged as a war by one of the parties, it seeks to change the minds of the people. Moreover, when said party in conflict seeks to unify the civilian realm under a military logic, it makes sense that even the military units and those who lead them have Twitter accounts, because they are part of a broader propaganda system seeking to impose a narrative of the country.

The Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, GNB) has divided Venezuela into seven Comprehensive Defense Strategic Regions (Regiones Estratégicas de Defensa Integral, REDIs): Guayana, East, Central, The Plains, West, The Andes, and Island Maritime. These REDIs in turn are divided into Comprehensive Defense Operational Zones (Zonas Operativas de Defensa Integral, ZODIs), which cover the states, and these in turn are divided into Comprehensive Defense Areas (Áreas de Defensa Integral, ADIs), which may be formed by one or several municipalities.

After the Bolivarian Militia and the Army, the GNB is the largest branch of the National Armed Forces. This military corps, with all its ubiquity, has Twitter accounts, which serve to promote not only its activities but also those of the government – not only institutional accounts but also those of active servicepersons.

You do not need to be a legal expert to understand that part of the GNB’s use of Twitter violates Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, CRBV) Article 330:

Article 330: Members of the National Armed Forces on active duty have the right to vote in accordance with law, but are not permitted to run for any office filled by popular vote, nor to participate in acts of political advertising, militancy or proselytizing.  [Emphasis added].

There are two distinct kinds of content in the reviewed accounts detailed below: News on GNB activities, in more or less military terms, and political propaganda generally in the form of retweets to other accounts. 

In a previous piece, we identified as many as 59 military Twitter accounts promoting China’s COVID-19 vaccine. To broaden the scope of that research, we selected 40 of those accounts and downloaded all or some of their followers (up to a maximum of 2,000 in all instances). These are accounts that can have from just over a hundred to thousands of followers. As the above article and the momentum of recent trends in May such as “Free the patriots” (“Liberen a los patriotas”, alluding to the Venezuelan military kidnapped by a dissident faction of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas) demonstrate, these accounts show an orchestrated activity, in violation of Twitter’s terms of use.

These are five of the accounts that follow the 40 downloaded ranked by number of followers.

Twitter AccountFollowersFollowing
GNB Guardia del Pueblo97,5071,012
GNB Capital 37,4691,203
GNB Anzoátegui29,7431,137
GNB Bolívar25,776894
Mayor GNB Rivero16,94818,562

When we filter the follower accounts relative to those followed, that is, the 40 selected, it turns out that there does not seem to be a follow-for-follow strategy, as not all accounts follow each other. However, it is certainly remarkable how many accounts are followed. The total number of unique accounts followed is 692 (out of a total of 3,482 followers downloaded from all accounts). Therefore, for example, we have: 

Twitter AccountNumber of accounts following
@Barinas_GNB28 out of 40
GNB_TACHIRAD21227 out of 40
GNB Anzoátegui26 out of 40
Desur Trujillo25 out of 40
Víctor Conde Silva24 out of 40

The group of 695 accounts reviewed, not necessarily all existing ones, began to be created as of 2010, the year Hugo Chávez opened @chavezcandanga. 

In 2014, the control structure of the GNB changed from nine Regional Commands (Comandos Regionales, COREs) to 24 Zone Commands (Comandos de Zona) covering the states of the country and the Capital District. Additionally, there is a second division of 162 detachments and other units for much wider deployment: The Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command (Comando Anti Extorsión y Secuestro, CONAS), the Coastal Surveillance Command (Comando de Vigilancia Costera), and the Air Command (Comando Aéreo). Of all these corps, there is a sample in the database reviewed, which is supplemented by the personal accounts of their holders.

The dominant story

The GNB Twitter accounts tell a story, one of a military organization in permanent activity conducting military practices and supporting the people: It delivers gas canisters, sanitizes public spaces, offers condolences, promotes foreign policy, conducts workshops on COVID-19 for children, and, of course, praises the achievements of the Maduro government. They are undoubtedly a government propaganda tool. 

The narrative of these accounts clearly seeks to strengthen the framing of the civil-military union, a concept not contained in the CRBV but in the Constitutional Law of the Armed Forces (Ley Constitucional de la Fuerza Armada), enacted on January 30, 2020, by the National Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Nacional Constituyente, ANC) – a legislative body of questioned legitimacy according to constitutional experts and not recognized by over 50 countries, the OAS, and the EU – as published in Official Gazette No. 6508 (extraordinary issue). Said ANC was already adjourned without even having drafted a constitution. The ANC is gone; but propaganda, under a spurious piece of legislation spawned from such extinct body, remains.

Medianalisis Cotejo Fake News En Este País