Combating Disinformation in Venezuela
Media and NGO alliance reveals extent to which the issue affects country’s online information space.
An IWPR-supported initiative is bringing together journalists and civil society activists to investigate and expose organised disinformation networks in Venezuela.
The C-Informa collaborative alliance, which currently includes three media outlets and two NGOs, has already published dozens of stories.
Much of the disinformation identified was to promote issues associated with the Venezuelan regime and Chavismo, the government’s left-wing populist ideology named after the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
As a result of one of C-Informa’s first investigations – into how regime disinformation machinery operated during the 27th UN Conference on Climate Change in November 2022 - Twitter closed nearly 150 accounts dedicated to distributing propaganda.
The reporters showed that Ministry of Communication and Information accounts were at the centre of the operation.
Another investigation demonstrated how massive troll and bot attacks via social networks were used to silence teachers' protests in Venezuela - again with government involvement - while the project also uncovered a web of Instagram accounts dedicated to distributing pro-regime disinformation. On the international stage, the teams also identified a network of pages posing as media outlets that existed exclusively to promote Chavista issues in the global media.
The journalists, from the Medianálisis, Efecto Cocuyo and El Estímulo outlets, and the civil society activists, from the Probox and Cazadores de Fake News NGOs, received training from IWPR and other members of Consortium to Support Independent Journalism in Latin America (CAPIR). Partners included data experts Data Critica and Chequeado, regional leaders in counter-disinformation journalism. Trainees learned methods and tools to uncover the sources, networks and workings behind systematic disinformation operations.
CAPIR partners also provided editorial support and mentoring throughout the investigative process, helping journalists demonstrate the depths to which the issue affects the online information space in Venezuela.
Ernesto (not his real name), a journalist involved in the project said he, like many others in Venezuela, had been unaware of the extent of disinformation in the country and its potential impact, particularly due to the absence of strong media to combat it.
“People think that these Twitter or Facebook trends, videos, and narrative campaigns arise on their own and it is extremely innovative to show that it is not so, and that many of them are initiated by someone with a specific objective,” he said, adding, “What we did in the Coalition opened up a wider range. We got into analysing how government bots work, how they promote trends…[showing] the disinformation structure in operation."
The alliance’s second phase focused on three collaborative publications exposing the regime's systematic use of disinformation for economic purposes, in particular distributing false information about the impact of US sanctions.
As part of the CAPIR project, initiated by IWPR in late 2020 to strengthen the capacity of regional media outlets to counter challenges, C-Informa will continue to deepen its collaborative investigations in its ongoing third phase.
"If there is something that we have learned during this coalition, it is that everyone has unique insights to contribute to an investigation, and this collaborative work was highly important because we realized that the result was much better than if we had done it individually,” said another participant, a female journalist who asked to remain anonymous. “Now I think the change is that we no longer see other media outlets as competitors, we see each other as allies. It is a change of mentality that we are stronger together."