Maduro’s Menagerie: Twitter Client Usage in a Venezuelan Twitter Operation (TAKEDOWN)
On December 2, 2021, Twitter announced that it had suspended a network of accounts that engaged in a political spam operation in support of the Venezuelan government. According to Twitter’s attribution language, real people were encouraged to engage in spammy behaviors to show their support for Nicolás Maduro and his political party. According to Twitter, financial compensation may have been offered to accounts for sufficient engagement in bolstering Maduro’s messaging. Our assessment of the accounts shared suggested that the set may be more accurately characterized as four or five distinct groups linked to each other only by mentions of common public figures or popular hashtags and by behavior that violates similar parts of Twitter’s policies. The network included accounts that reported locations in Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico, and engaged in automated tweeting behavior through the use of bots and feeds. The three regional groups were distinct and tweeted about different topics. In our assessment, we could not verify that these accounts were directly linked to tweet-for-hire schemes, although the Venezuelan accounts used behaviors described in prior reporting on this tactic. Other accounts in the network shared behavior similar to more commercial tweet-for-hire schemes: they promoted a mix of commercial brands and political hashtags. The accounts that reported their location as Mexico specifically engaged in behavior that amplified support for regional Mexican politicians. Shortly before the network was suspended, a small cluster of new accounts accounts furiously tweeted for the release of Alex Saab, a close ally of the Venezuelan president who was recently extradited from Cape Verde and is currently awaiting trial in Miami on charges of money laundering.