Dozens of Venezuelan public agencies have reported in recent hours that their Twitter accounts were restricted, which has caused outrage at a time when the social networks of personalities and institutions are used to disseminate information to face the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The measures have affected the account of the country’s vice president, Delcy Rodríguez; the Vice Presidency of the Republic, the Central Bank of Venezuela, the Ministries of Education, Science, Housing, and Universities; the Bicentennial Bank, four governors and three media outlets. This occurs just 2 months after another massive block of accounts that Twitter carried out against Venezuelan institutions and sympathizers of Chavismo.
The accounts, for the most part, appear as “temporarily restricted.” According to Twitter , this occurs when it is presumed that you have breached the Twitter Rules . They claim that “they will be able to continue browsing Twitter,” but they will not be able to perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, or using the Like function, “and only your followers will be able to see your previous Tweets.” In other cases, the account owner will see a message informing them that their account functions were limited for a specific period of time.
In some cases, the account holder is asked to verify their phone number through a text message or phone call, but the problems associated with sanctions against Venezuela sometimes prevent the call or the text message from reaching its destination.
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This is a list of the accounts that were restricted between March 16 and 19:
- @DrodriguezVen , account of the vice president of Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez (still restricted).
- @Gabrielasjr , official account of Gabriela Jiménez, Minister of Science and Technology (still restricted).
- @OmarPrietoGob , account of the governor of the Zulia state, Omar Prieto (still restricted).
- @RMarcoTorres , account of the governor of the Aragua state, Rodolfo Marco Torres (still restricted).
- @MargaudPSUV , account of the governor of the Cojedes state, Margaud Godoy (still restricted).
- @HectoRodriguez , account of the governor of the Miranda state, Héctor Rodríguez (recovered).
- @tupamarohipolit , account of the Minister of Transport, Hipólito Abreu (still restricted).
- @IMVillarroel , account of the Minister of Housing, Ildemaro Villarroel (still restricted).
- @MPPEDUCACION , official account of the Ministry of Popular Power for Education (still restricted).
- @Mincyt_VE , official account of the PP Ministry for Science and Technology (still restricted).
- @MppeuVE , official account of the PP Ministry for University Education (suspended).
- @Minhvi_Oficial , official account of the PP Ministry for Housing and Habitat (still restricted).
- @ViceVenezuela , official account of the Vice President of Venezuela (still restricted).
- @BCV_ORG_VE , official account of the Central Bank of Venezuela (already recovered).
- @BcoBicentenario , official account of Banco Bicentenario (still restricted).
- @INAC_Venezuela , account of the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Authority (still restricted).
- @CNAC_Venezuela , official account of the National Autonomous Center for Cinematography (still restricted).
- @SunacripVe , official account of the National Superintendence of Cryptoactive (still restricted).
- @MVzlaBella , account of the Venezuela Bella Mission (recovered).
- @OfficialCOV , account of the Venezuelan Olympic Committee (still restricted).
- @Puerto_LaGuaira , official account of the port of La Guaira
- @PuertoGuamache , official account of the international port of Guamache, Nueva Esparta state
- @PuertoMCBO , official account of the port of Maracaibo, Zulia state
- @PuertoEulaliaB , official account of the commercial port Eulalia Buroz, Anzoátegui state
- @PuertoAraure , official account of the Dry Port “Battle of Araure”, Portuguese state.
All these accounts are managed by Bolivariana de Puertos SA (Bolipuertos)
- @MirafloresFmVe , account of the Radio Miraflores station (recovered).
- @TodasAdentro , account of the printed weekly TodosAdentro of the Ministry of Popular Power for Culture (still restricted).
@DIARIOVEAHOY , official account of the private print newspaper Diario Vea (still restricted).
Journalists and people dedicated to communication
- @Hindu_Anderi , account of the Venezuelan journalist Hindu Anderi (still restricted).
- @IvanPadillaB , account of the Venezuelan journalist Iván Padilla Bravo (still restricted).
- @OrlenysOV , account of the Venezuelan poster Orlenis O., who reported that Twitter restricted some functions for a time “to verify that you are not a robot”, until she verified her phone and did a reCaptcha challenge.
No information could be found about private media accounts, politicians, artists or journalists identified with the Venezuelan opposition whose accounts have been restricted.
Automated account lockout systems
Regarding possible causes, an entry published on March 16 on the company’s official blog Twitter reported that “they will increase the use of machine learning and automation systems to take a wide range of actions on potentially abusive and manipulative content”, which implies that they will use applications and software to automatically detect those accounts that are violating their rules.
On the other hand, they clarify that “although we work to ensure that our systems are consistent, sometimes they may lack the context that our teams bring, and this can cause us to make mistakes. As a result, we will not permanently suspend any account based solely on our automated compliance systems.”
In that article, Twitter also states that they are penalizing those accounts that issue tweets whose content goes against what health authorities recommend doing to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
In another article published in June 2019 on their blog, the Twitter company explained that, as a result of the accusations made against them by American politicians and media about having allowed the alleged interference of foreign countries in the 2016 presidential elections , started an account closure campaign focused mainly on states or governments that are allegedly trying to manipulate their platform.
Twitter claims that it is concentrating on attacking what they call ” state-backed information operations,” that is, state-orchestrated information operations, that may occur on its platform. They claim that states or governments are behind these campaigns aimed at influencing the elections in other countries, and that there are people who take advantage of their institutional power and consciously “abuse” the Twitter service.
Twitter indicates in its blog that they are concentrating on those who carry out this type of activities:
- Platform manipulation and spam
- Coordinated activities
- Creation of fake accounts
- Attribute activities to others
- Distribution of hacked materials
- Block Evasion
It is possible that Twitter is penalizing accounts that engage in tag campaigns which although they are usual in said digital social network, the company could be frowning upon if they come from states or countries that the US establishment considers as its enemies.
Long list of precedents
It is not the first time that important Twitter accounts linked to the Venezuelan government or Chavismo have been massively blocked, particularly during critical moments.
- In November 2013, the Twitter company suspended some 6,600 accounts of followers of President Nicolás Maduro or of officials or institutions of his government, including two media outlets (the capital city newspaper CiudadCCS and the radio station La Radio del Sur). Among those blocked were the then Minister of Communication and Information, Delcy Rodríguez; Wilmer Barrientos, who was at the time occupying the Office of the Presidency; the then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Yvan Gil; the governor of Anzoátegui at that time, Aristóbulo Istúriz (@psuvaristobulo); as well as the official accounts of the ministries of University Education, Land Transportation, for Women, Corpomiranda, the Social Vice Presidency, the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV), the National Experimental University of Security (UNES), Pdval, Mercal, and networks of Maduro supporters such as ForoCandanga, as well as numerous journalists, professionals and recognized individuals. The accounts were restored days later, alleging that it was “a mistake. “
- In June 2017, dozens of media accounts and activists from Chavismo were suspended without explanation. At least thirteen accounts of the state radio station Radio Nacional de Venezuela were suspended, including its main account, @RNVContigo , and the accounts of the regional stations @rnvcentral , @rnvtachirafm , @rnvzulia , @rnvanzoategui , @rnvlosllanosfm , @rnvtachirafm and @rnvportuguesa , as well as the channels @rnvmusical and @rnvindigena , and the sections @rnvcultura , @rnvdeportes and@rnvinter . In addition, the accounts of Radio Miraflores ( @MirafloresFM ) and Miraflores TV ( @MIRAFLORES_TV ), media of the Presidency of the Republic, as well as important influencers and Chavista tweeters were blocked . None of these accounts could be recovered.
- At the time, there was criticism against Twitter for the huge number of bot and trolls accounts that openly favored the opposition and artificially imposed trends in violation of Twitter rules, but were not admonished.
- In 2018, the @PresidencialVen account, used by the Presidential Press team, was temporarily blocked.
- In February 2019 , Facebook and Twitter announced that they had removed thousands of pages and accounts allegedly for having been used to “influence the politics and public opinion of other countries”, as part of the measures supposedly to combat false news on their platforms. The companies announced that they have deleted thousands of accounts from Russia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Venezuela and the United States. In Venezuela, it was known that they were blocked:
- The account of the Venezuelan newspaper Correo del Orinoco, a communication medium created on August 30, 2009 in honor of the newspaper of the same name created by the Liberator Simón Bolívar in 1818. This account has more than 829 thousand followers and publishes mainly content on the website of the newspaper , which is attached to the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information. It was reinstated soon after, but then, in April, it was permanently suspended.
- The account @ViceVenezuela of the Vice Presidency of the Republic , which has 329 thousand followers. It was restored days later.
- In late April and early May 2019, coinciding with a coup d’état attempted against President Nicolás Maduro by Juan Guaidó, the accounts of three social media outlets were blocked: the account of the Correo del Orinoco newspaper ( @correoorinoco ), the newspaper Vea ( @DiarioVEAVen ) and the television station ViVe Televisión ( @ViVetvoficial ).
- Days later, the account of the National Electric Corporation ( @CORPOELECinfo ) was blocked , coinciding with the electrical problems that the country suffered as a result of possible sabotage blamed on the US government. It was restored a few days later. The account of the Ministry of Popular Power for Women ( @MinMujer ), the Ministry of Popular Power for Education (@ mppeducacion ) and the Ministry of Popular Power for Petroleum ( @MinPetroleoVE ) were also blocked for a few days .
- On January 7, 2020, dozens of Twitter accounts linked to the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), as well as the official account of the Central Bank of Venezuela @BCV_ORG_VE, seven state media – including the station Alba Ciudad-, Dozens of political leaders, journalists, ministries and institutions were suspended without explanation. The accounts @ceofanb , @PrensaFanb , @ejercitofanb , @armadafanb , @aviacionFanb , @GNBoficial and @MiliciaFanb (of the 5 components of the Venezuelan Armed Forces) were among the blocked accounts, at a time when sanctions against the country by the United States government were tightening.
Translated by JRE/EF