Shady anonymous actors are waging an information war manipulating social media with automated posts in an apparent attempt to manufacture a faux consensus for regime change in Venezuela.
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — As the U.S.-backed coup attempt in Venezuela continues to take shape, shady anonymous actors are waging an information war manipulating social media with automated posts in an apparent attempt to manufacture a faux consensus for regime change in the online theater.
If you’ve been on Twitter since January 23, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only pastimes in Venezuela are protesting and replying to anyone and everyone on the platform critical of Washington’s clear collusion with the Venezuelan opposition in its quest for regime change.
Juan Guaido — who had a mere 90,000 followers on Twitter around the time of the coup attempt one year prior, and 340,000 around January 23, 2019 – has since skyrocketed on the platform, currently enjoying a following of more than 1,100,000.
While the phenomenon has not yet been linked to manipulation by the opposition, it raises questions about the online influencers who have tried to turn the previously little-known figure into a household name the world over.
An “immense campaign” and Twitter’s perverse response
Meanwhile, Twitter disinformation researcher and data visualization artist Erin Gallagher uncovered an immense campaign sympathetic to the right-wing Venezuelan opposition that used a variety of tools and applications to artificially inflate the reach of certain posts.
“The Venezuelan opposition is far from censored on Twitter,” she wrote. “To the contrary, their trends generate billions of impressions every day.”
Gallagher’s bombshell report was dropped on Thursday. The following day, Twitter took action — but not against the pro-opposition network. The company banned “764 accounts located in Venezuela” that it said used “spammy” political content “similar to that utilized by potential Russian [Internet Research Agency] accounts” and 1,200 accounts it said “appear” to be “engaged in a state-backed influence campaign targeting domestic [Venezuelan] audiences.” Those accounts have been characterized online as “pro-Maduro.”
The apparent double standard wasn’t confined just to Twitter, however. The Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL), often the mainstream media’s go-to institution of “experts” on such matters, claimed in a blog post that it “did not find clear evidence of automated amplification of hashtags trending around the protests” against Maduro on January 23 (#23E), the day of Maduro’s inauguration, Gallagher noted.'
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