How could artificial intelligence be used during the electoral campaign in Venezuela?

How could artificial intelligence be used during the electoral campaign in Venezuela?


For several years now misleading, false or erroneous news has spread like a virus in Venezuela, but during election times there is usually a much greater amount of disinformation on social networks and supposed news pages. Faced with this wave of manipulation undertaken especially by Chavismo propagandists, projects have emerged to combat this scourge on the web and social networks.

Jefferson Civira / Correspondent

Since 2019, Fake News Hunters have been fighting campaigns of rumors, smears, misinformation, hoaxes and lies. Its founder, Andrés González, who is a Venezuelan structural engineer, infocitizen and open source researcher, had the vision of creating this organization where they have taken on the arduous work of exposing false information.

Given the current electoral campaign in Venezuela, Andrés González states that it will be characterized by the use of artificial intelligence to try to confuse the electorate with deep fakes or “deep falsehoods”, which are defined as video, image or voice files manipulated by artificial intelligence software of so that they appear original, authentic and very much real.

-In Venezuela, although the electoral campaign officially begins on July 4th, the candidates have already been involved in their campaigns for weeks and disinformation has also been published for some time, especially by actors that favor the Government. How should the opposition sector prepare for what would be a fierce and vicious campaign to confuse or manipulate the electorate?

Both the opposition and the regime and its supporters must prepare for this wave of misinformation that will become increasingly larger as election day approaches. Much of the misinformation that arises from the ruling party has no intention of convincing the general population that they are going to vote for options other than Chavismo. It is aimed at its own bases and members of the FANB (Armed Forces), and may seek to influence the way they view any option that has nothing to do with the Chavismo candidate.

They are trying to demonize the candidate who really has the greatest chance of winning, in this case Edmundo González Urrutia, but simultaneously demonize everything that María Corina Machado does, as the engine of the opposition campaign. At this time all possible disinformation tactics, techniques and procedures are going to be used, so all civil society should always be informed through reliable and honest sources, not propaganda portals, fake accounts on social networks or chains or rumors through WhatsApp.

-For any citizen, what is the most effective way to identify misleading, false or erroneous news that circulates on social networks? Give us some basic tips so that people do not fall for it.

The only way for any citizen to detect possible misinformation is to ask themselves a set of basic questions regarding any content they receive: Where does the information come from? Who is the author? Where and when did it happen? What is really in the text, audio, image or video? Could there be some deception, is there any contradiction? Could this have been shared with any malicious intent? If instead of asking those questions, people share whatever comes to them, they fuel misinformation and become part of a system designed to deceive.

It is important to try to search for information on Google, but also read reliable sources, not just any portal that appears on the screen. There are more than 50 fake news portals that have been operating for years and some of them regularly broadcast disinformation. It is not enough to find information on a web portal, it is important that it is reliable.

-Who can be considered the biggest misinformers currently in Venezuela within the context of the electoral campaign?

Political-electoral misinformation in Venezuela comes from many sides. Sometimes the spotlights are supposed “media”, sometimes they are fake accounts, trolls, bots or fake news outlets, covertly publishing propaganda and disinformation.

There are many networks. Since 2019, a network of fake news programs has been operating on Instagram that has more than 5 million followers and from which dozens of cases of misinformation and rumors have emerged. On YouTube there are at least 3 companies that are paying for pro-government propaganda, which in many cases contain misinformation, such as an old channel already suspended in which fake American presenters – created with artificial intelligence – amplified fake and misleading narratives.

Currently the main focus of disinformation are fake “independent” news programs that constantly broadcast disinformation, falsifications, lies and digital manipulations, without any type remorse. The main one is undoubtedly called Venezuela News, a portal that emerged during the digital disinformation campaign in favor of the release of Alex Saab.

-As the election campaign progresses and the election date approaches, how do you think they will use artificial intelligence in the fabrication of false or misleading information in the election campaign?

It is quite likely that generative artificial intelligence techniques, voice or video deepfakes will be used to confuse people. This is a trend that has already occurred in other recent elections and it is a scenario for which we have already been preparing for months.

-In your investigations you have detected operations implemented by the Venezuelan Government, where accounts on social networks pose as supposed “opposition”, but who really act against the opposition. Can you mention some of those accounts?

Yes, the network of fake news programs on Instagram – which currently number seven – is one of the most notorious examples. They pose as newscasts for opposition-leaning readers, publishing apparently neutral, diluted content and, occasionally, almost simultaneously publishing very far-fetched hoaxes against opposition leaders, with which they seek to sow discord among the opposition or damage their credibility in the eyes of their peers and readers. But they have not only done this against politicians, but also against journalists, communicators and activists who are adversaries of the Government.

Additionally, in the context of the 2021 regional elections, we discovered a network of troll accounts on Twitter (now X) that were supporting the campaign of several pro-government candidates. A part of the accounts behaved like Chavistas supporting their candidates, others behaved like and pretended to be opposition, calling other candidates “scorpions” (traitors) to stimulate abstention.

This is not so common at the moment, but it is a very common platform manipulation technique that we have seen in other countries, such as in the last presidential election in Honduras this same year, troll accounts posting things like “I prefer abstention before going to vote”.

-Tell us which are the fake news programs or news portals created recently to enhance Government propaganda to misinform.

First of all, it is necessary to mention portals directly linked to the Government, such as “Venezolana de Televisión” and Telesur. But most Venezuelans know that propaganda and misinformation always emerge through these sources, so the most dangerous cases are the portals that deceptively present themselves as independent.

Among the latter, the most obvious is Venezuela News, directed by Pedro Carvajalino, but it is not the only one. Basically, it is used as a platform to constantly broadcast disinformation, which within a few hours migrates to other allied portals such as FuserNews (created in the context of the disinformation operation in favor of the release of Alex Saab), RedRadioVe, directed by Fidel Madroñero .

But also other portals that are consistently repeating misinformation and falsifications that arise from the previous ones, without any type of prior verification, such as Globovisión, El Universal and Últimas Noticias. It is a pattern that perhaps many Venezuelans have not noticed, because 10 years ago they were media outlets with a completely independent editorial line and that has changed.