A Twitter network supporting the Maduro regime coordinated to amplify anti-Guaidó hashtags in the aftermath of the Venezuelan National Assembly’s January 5 elections for the presidency of the legislative body.
The network, made up of 112 accounts, amplified hashtags by retweeting, replying, and mentioning each other’s posts. Their actions suggest they engaged in inauthentic behavior to make the hashtags seem more popular than they were, attempting to influence or manipulate the trending topics on Twitter. In this context, the conversations related to the January 5 National Assembly vote and, more specifically, the narratives around the opposition led by Juan Guaidó sought to prejudice the receiving audience against him and, in turn, tighten Maduro’s hold on the government.
The elections was marked by political posturing and illegal machinations by the Maduro regime. Maduro’s security forces blocked members of the opposition coalition from entering the National Assembly building to vote. As Guaidó was held outside, Luis Parra, a former opposition member ejected from the coalition on charges of corruption who is now backed by the Maduro regime, declared himself president of the National Assembly in a session that did not have the legal quorum necessary to make the vote legally binding. After that, Guaidó and other lawmakers met at the headquarters of the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional for a legal vote, where he was reelected president of the National Assembly with 100 of 167 National Assembly representatives present and 100 votes. Guaidó’s reelection as president of the National Assembly reaffirmed his claim as interim president of Venezuela, a position for which he is recognized by more than 50 countries.
The Maduro regime implemented undemocratic tactics to delegitimize the election not only at the Assembly building, but also online. Venezuela’s state-run internet provider CANTV blocked Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and YouTube for 2.5 hours on the morning of January 5.
In the midst of the blackout and afterward, a coordinated campaign to cause certain hashtags to trend took place, though it remains unknown what, if any, role the government played. While no government role was detected in the amplification of the hashtags, two of them were first published by Diosdado Cabello, president of the pro-Maduro Constituent National Assembly and Maduro’s second-in-command.
In total, however, the accounts undertaking the campaign posted over 19,000 tweets from January 4 to January 7, which represents 25 percent of all mentions. Twitter accounts — outside of the network — amplified Diosdado’s posts increasingly after the election day.
Inauthentic activity by pro-Maduro accounts
On Twitter, four hashtags posted during the January 5 vote in the National Assembly and over the days that followed targeted Guaidó. The hashtags #NoQueremosAWaido (“We do not want Waido”), #HastaNuncaWaido (“See you never, Waido”), TúSíEresGuaidiota (“You are indeed Guaido-fool”), and #GuaidóNoTieneLosVotos (“Guaidó does not have the votes”) reached the trending topics between January 4 and January 7. The first two hashtags aimed at instilling or even mocking — in part through using a pejorative spelling (“Waido”) of his name — the idea that Guaidó did not have popular support, while the latter is connected to a narrative pushed by the regime that claimed Guaidó did not enter the National Assembly building because he knew he did not have enough votes to be reelected. In reality, he was physically barred from entering by the military outside. In total, the hashtags garnered 77,300 mentions combined and were posted by 11,798 unique accounts.
The DFRLab identified among the 11,798 accounts a network of 112 accounts, all supporting the regime, that acted to push the hashtags. The accounts created original tweets mentioning the hashtags and amplified posts from other accounts in the network. The network acted in a coordinated way to promote an anti-Guaidó campaign on Twitter during and after the election.
The network’s inauthentic activities accounted for 25 percent of all mentions of the four hashtags, despite the accounts from the network representing less than 1 percent of the total number of accounts.
The most active accounts and the most retweeted accounts are listed in the tables below. The top six most active accounts posted the hashtags #NoQueremosAWaido and #HastaNuncaWaido more than 500 times.
@Ma_Kamila_ joined Twitter on December 7, 2019, and, at the time of writing, had tweeted 4,669 times, an average of 141 tweets per day between December 7, 2019, and January 9, 2020. This account published 610 posts over the course of January 5, the day of the National Assembly vote. This behavior shows bot-like features, as the DFRLab regards more than 144 tweets per day as highly suspicious. In that same time period, the activity of the profile is related to other hashtags using the word “Waido.” These hashtags followed a pattern detected since last December in other hashtags where the last name Guaidó was replaced by Waido, in which the “W” seems to replace the Spanish sound “Gua” as a pejorative spelling.
Cabello’s hashtags targeted Guaidó
Diosdado Cabello was one of the most prominent members of the regime using two of the hashtags that were later amplified by the network, in part because his account was the first to tweet #TuSiEresGuaidiota to its 2.3 million followers on January 6, reaching 3,600 likes and 3,700 retweets as of January 9.
His TV program account @ConElMazoDando was also the first account to tweet the other hashtag boosted by the network, #GuaidoNoTieneLosVotos on January 5, reaching 20 likes and 47 retweets as of January 9.
An analysis focused only on the hashtag #TúSíEresGuaidiota showed @ConElMazoDando to be the account with the highest usage, tweeting the hashtag 696 times in total as of January 7. The account @Francis94837474 most actively retweeted posts using the same hashtag by @ConElMazoDando, retweeting a total of 408 posts.
@Francis94837474 shows a very high probability of automation. Between December 2 and January 7, the account produced 22,858 tweets (617.7 on average per day) total, 99 percent (22,718) of which were retweets and 1 percent (140) of which were original posts. All posts followed the same pattern, posting a hashtag and tagging a high number of accounts. On December 18 alone, the profile registered 1,213 posts (50.5 per hour).
A network of accounts supporting the Maduro regime has engaged in coordination to amplify hashtags targeting Juan Guaidó inauthentically, most recently during and following the January 5 legislative vote for the Venezuelan National Assembly presidency. As is all too common, the accounts in the network coordinated to position content on social media that echoed regime-backed candidate Luis Parra and members of the Maduro regime. Despite this obvious pro-regime bias, it is unclear whether anybody or entity directly affiliated with the regime was involved in the manipulated traffic around the four hashtags identified in this analysis.
Esteban Ponce de León is a Research Assistant, Latin America, with the Digital Forensic Research Lab and is based in Colombia.
Daniel Suárez Pérez is a Research Assistant, Latin America, with the Digital Forensic Research Lab and is based in Colombia.
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