Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.
Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama’s.
This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don’t know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.
There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I’m being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.
As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President’s Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women’s Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.
It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.
The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It’s impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don’t expect to get called out, so we should.
The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I’m not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela’s democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.
Venezuela’s Maduro Denounces Twitter Attack as Thousands of Pro-Government Accounts Suspended
Mérida, 1st November 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has denounced a “massive” Twitter attack against the Venezuelan government after thousands of accounts belonging to ministers and pro-government media and supporters were simultaneously suspended yesterday.
The list of accounts closed includes those of three government ministers, five ministries and official entities, a socialist party state governor and a variety of pro-government journalists, organisations and supporters.
The accounts of state media outlet the Radio of the South and pro-government newspaper Ciudad CCS have also been suspended. They had 107,000 and 153,000 followers respectively.
Maduro’s account remains open, however it lost around 6500 followers within a period of a few minutes yesterday evening, apparently coinciding with the closure of the twitter accounts of prominent government supporters.
Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez explained what happened on state channel VTV last night.
“Today, at 5.50pm, [Maduro’s twitter account] suffered an abrupt fall [in followers] that we couldn’t understand…what happened at that moment? The company Twitter decided to suspend over 10,000 accounts at the same time, among others of ministers and this public servant,” she said, referring to her own twitter account.
“[It was] a massive attack. It must be denounced as such. It wasn’t limited to this list…we make use of this tool to spread the truth about the [Bolivarian] revolution and our people,” the minister added.
Information Minister Rodriguez also said that the government had already lodged an official complaint with Twitter, explaining, “We’re going to go to the official mechanisms…because we demand an explanation. We’re also going to call the world for a movement that supports us so that they give us our accounts back…we’ll see each other [the government and Twitter] between lawyers”.
Meanwhile, Maduro accused Twitter of collaborating with opponents of the Bolivarian revolution to attack his government.
“We have discovered a massive attack by the company Twitter and the international right-wing against the accounts of Bolivarian patriots and Chavistas…from various countries in the world,” he said on national television last night.
The president argued that the alleged attack was due to that fact that he and the government use the social network as a means to inform the Venezuelan people, and claimed that the conservative opposition was “practising for something”.
“The Venezuelan opposition want to cause a set of events of great magnitude, a negative impact on the economy, society and peace of the country, so that the [municipal] elections of 8 December are suspended,” Maduro said.
So far today, no prominent opposition figure or journalist has publicly commented on the alleged online attack. Likewise, de facto opposition leader Henrique Capriles and pro-opposition journalists Nelson Bocaranda and Leopoldo Castillo have not mentioned the incident on their twitter accounts.
According to pro-government independent news website Aporrea.org no similar activity of a sudden loss of followers or closure of accounts has occurred to opposition figures on Twitter.
The opposition’s stance was attacked by pro-government lawmaker Pedro Carreño, who said, “Squalid [pro-opposition] journalists talk of freedom of expression and then see the censorship of [social] network accounts as normal”.
Pro-government figures also called upon supporters to double the number of Twitter followers lost and intensify organising efforts ahead of the 8 December municipal elections.
The Venezuelan government and supporters began using Twitter as a means of communicating their message in a big way when late President Hugo Chavez opened an account with the U.S. social networking site in April 2010. By his death in March this year Chavez had accumulated over 4 million followers, reportedly making him the second most followed head of state in the world after Barack Obama.