The narrative, reliability, sources, and traction of three prominent Venezuelan pro-Trump tweeters are reviewed and fact-checked with data journalism tools.
By Rodolfo Rico
For many Venezuelans, President Trump is a sort of hero who exposed a global conspiracy to end the Western world and has won the U.S. election. These Venezuelans often call themselves MAGAzuelans (“Make America Great Again” [MAGA] Venezuelans) and are major disseminators of disinformation. We chose three accounts promoting these ideas, namely:
- Ángel García Banchs (@Garcíabanchs), holding masters and doctorates in the economic field, former professor at the Central University of Venezuela (Universidad Central de Venezuela), partner of a well-known financial advisory firm, and who has 349,000 followers on Twitter;
- Humberto González Briceño (@humbertotweets), a lawyer with a master’s degree in negotiation from the University of California per his LinkedIn profile, also has a political background, since he was a Táchira State assemblyman as well as lieutenant governor of said Venezuelan state, and has 615,000 followers on Twitter, and;
- Esteban Gerbasi (@estebangerbasi), who describes himself in his LinkedIn account as a political advisor and an expert in crisis communications – in interviews he claims to have more than four decades’ experience in political campaigns – has more than 489,000 followers on Twitter.
Of these three accounts, we reviewed 8,749 tweets. This is a summary of our findings.
When opinion serves disinformation
All three Twitter accounts have one common trait: They are personal. Therefore, everything they share has the bias of personal opinion. There are tweets that mention other accounts (as a reply or as a quote), that contain links to news sites or other opinions and, of course, there are the typical Twitter posts that are like a bottle with a message thrown into the sea.
On Twitter, the success of a message is measured by its reach and by how people react with likes and retweets. For our analysis, we added a third criterion that includes both kinds of reactions to identify which are the most important tweets in this regard. We found that the most relevant tweet according to that criterion is one by Esteban Gerbasi, a bottle thrown into the sea, a wish.
[All original tweets in Spanish have been translated for this piece]
I have a feeling that in the next few weeks the serious Venezuelan situation will be resolved, and the re-election of @realDonaldTrump will seal the transition. God Bless Venezuela, let us all raise this prayer request to God. [Prayer, heart, and hug emojis] RT.
This “bottle” with the message of a “wish” was thrown into the “sea” of Twitter on Saturday, September 26, 2020, long before the November 3 elections. It got 16,403 reactions and is a message including what is called in marketing a call to action, because it asks followers to pray and retweet.
The tweet message is from Ángel García Banchs, posted on November 4, in a clearly electoral context, and obtained 7,757 reactions.
Socialism and destruction (Biden) is winning at this moment. Father God Almighty, we ask you to turn Michigan around in favor of Trump again. We seek You. The world does not need socialism but to come closer to You. And Venezuela also needs Trump to win. [Image of US electoral map]
The third message is also from García Banchs, a convinced proponent of the need for foreign intervention in Venezuela. It was published on July 18, 2020, and totaled 7,346 reactions.
The US will not only launch a military intervention in Venezuela, but also an economic one and, more specifically, one on the oil industry.
The first tweet from Humberto González listed is in position 27, and it is clearly electoral, since it was posted on November 4. It obtained 5,587 reactions.
128 thousand votes sent by mail…and ALL for one candidate? FRAUD! #Michigan
As we know, Democrats encouraged absentee voting in the face of the pandemic, while Trump himself discouraged it, promoting instead in-person voting.
November: The month of electoral disinformation
A review only of the November tweets (retrieved until the 11th of that month, since an earlier review included the month of August), already shows the electoral outlook.
The first tweet is the one above by García Banchs on Biden. The second is also from Banchs.
God and the devil are involved in the US elections, and the future of our planet depends on them; and we all know that, including atheists. And I trust God, who will give Donald Trump the victory. It’s going to be a tough fight, but we’ll win it.
This tweet generated 6,730 reactions. In all his tweets, García Banchs mentions God up to 97 times; and it is a constant how he connects the divine with the earthly.
On his part, this is the top tweet by Esteban Gerbasi in November:
“For now” @JoeBiden is the president on mainstream and social media, not the one from the will of the Great American People and from Justice. This is just the beginning!
He wrote it on November 7, and it generated 6,304 reactions. It is worth reminding at this point that reactions only reflect a more active aspect of a tweet’s reach (i.e. those who actually see it on their feed). In other words, many more people see the tweet than those who react to it.
We feature this second tweet by Humberto González with most reactions as we have already elaborated on the first one.
In the coming hours, @realDonaldTrump will be declared the winner in Georgia… [Link to Newsmax video]
Although, at first it, seemed like a state in dispute and indeed a manual recount, which ended last November 19, was conducted, it declared Joe Biden the winner, adding its electoral votes to the Democrat candidate. The tweet was published on November 10. He shared a tweet from Donald Trump which only reinforced the fraud narrative promoted by the Trump campaign. The final difference in favor of Biden was just over 12,000 votes. The tweet generated 2,792 reactions.
By their media, you will know them
The partisan media that rely on after truth, that support imposing a story over facts, are an important part of a process of disinformation. Therefore, it is important to look into what these tweeters read and share. In November alone, between the three of them, they shared 38 tweets linking to Breitbart, a well-known partisan media outlet that is usually regarded as a disseminator of disinformation.
Not surprisingly, other conservative media are also frequently cited, such as the Washington Examiner (twice in November) and the Washington Times (six times in November); the latter, owned by the Church of Reunification (known as the Moon cult). The Washington Post is mentioned only once.
Mentions of Venezuela – or Venezuelan(s) – appear in 90 tweets in November, when all three accounts posted 2,093 tweets in just eleven days, often – but not exclusively – in reference to its relationship with the U.S. and Trump. This fact is illustrated in the word cloud below.
These three accounts are just the tip of the iceberg. They are not the only ones; but they are prominent enough to gain traction. They branch out to WhatsApp, Telegram or YouTube accounts, and it is also possible to identify Spanish-language media outlets targeting Venezuelan audiences, such as El American or PanAm Post, that echo conspiracy theories or widely dispelled information.
The rebuttals to most of the information shared by these accounts can be obtained from such fact-checking organizations as Maldita.es (in Spanish) and Politifacts (in English).