Fake news and coronavirus: a lethal cocktail that fuels the crisis in Venezuela

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While the government of Nicolás Maduro controls the media, citizens increasingly turn to social networks. The risk of misinformation.

Social networks are the refuge for Venezuelans seeking information. Faced with the siege to which many media are subjected and the official absorption of others, citizens turn to the networks and are then prey to another evil: false news that spreads more easily than the coronavirus.

“There are many people who believe that (covid-19) has never existed, who always ask the typical question that ‘do you know someone who has given it?’, As if sowing that idea, but how so many have spread false news, it is not really known which are the official ones, “Venezuelan Steven García explained to the EFE agency.

In the streets of the country, where the pandemic is the monothem, as in almost any other place in the world, the combination of misinformation and covid-19 is the best ally for chaos and the multiplication of the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

This bug also has a name: infodemia.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has warned about this in a recent report. In Venezuela, three out of four news items circulating on social media are unreliable, a world record equaled only by Peru, which has a special impact on a country where going to another media implies a little odyssey.

Here, with official media everywhere that are mere speakers of the government, newspapers with a long history that have gone out of circulation due to the lack of paper and pressures that grip the work of the press, There are many who turn to the networks or even the international media to find out what is happening in Venezuela.

There is still a paid field, a perfect place for those who enter just a few hours a day, who have internet or electricity, to find out about networks and do not have the time or desire to take the trouble to check if the information that comes to them is false.

“I get information mostly on Twitter, I follow many accounts and try to have a broader picture,” explains Franklin Noriega, who, as an exception in the country, explains that he goes to “different news sources.”

“But I try to go, above all to international sources, I try to see one another, prestigious media, also accounts of people that I think are reliable,” he emphasizes.

With authorities that have spent years between opacity and cryptic data, a distrust has been sown in Venezuelan society that, with the arrival of covid-19, has flourished with a skepticism towards all the figures that the government has released about the number of infections and the status of the pandemic in the country.

Franklin, like many of his neighbors, sums it up in one sentence: “The truth is that we don’t trust the official reports very much.”

The figures released by the government of Nicolás Maduro show a country practically foreign to the disease, of which there were only 4,302 active cases on November 9, always according to these data. But the opposition estimates that the real number could be doubled.

To date, there has been no occasion in which these figures have been questioned at a press conference. To avoid this, the daily head of the government varies the information formula. Some days, by means of a telephone call to the State channel, it offers the data, and others, it simply publishes it on Twitter or Instagram.

Not a press conference, not a question, not a single occasion to contrast the daily numbers or consult on the disproportion of such low figures with the total closure of the country abroad, which, just a couple of days ago, opened commercial flights to 4 “friendly” countries: Dominican Republic, Mexico, Turkey and Iran.

As if that were not enough, the thousands of bots that are in the Venezuelan networks shake those figures at their convenience because, as the UNDP had also warned in 2019, they are used throughout Latin America to fester debates in public opinion and sharpen polarization, the favorite noun of politicians in the Caribbean country.

Felipe Vargas, a resident of Caracas, also acknowledges that he has been reporting on Twitter since the pandemic began and takes his precautions, but has set his eye on a particular enemy: the World Health Organization (WHO).

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