Online attacks on presidential candidates in Venezuela have a distinct gendered angle, study shows

Image by Probox. Used with permission.

This article was written by the Coalición Informativa Venezuela, a team of Venezuelan journalists and independent media that confronts disinformation. C-Informa is made up by Medianálisis, Efecto Cocuyo, El Estímulo, Cazadores de Fake News and ProBox. An edited version is republished by Global Voices under a content sharing agreement with Probox. 

In Venezuela, the opposition presidential primaries of October 22, 2023, unleashed a new wave of disinformation, propaganda and hoaxes on social media long before the process even took place: from the combination of the TV program “Con el Mazo dando” and artificial intelligence, to the use of coordinated “anonymous networks;” even old disinformation actors that have remained present in the Venezuelan digital ecosystem got involved in the conversation about the campaign process of opposition candidates. 

Gender also played a role in the matter. Coalición Informativa Venezuela (C-Informa) conducted a study focused on the then candidates María Corina Machado, Delsa Solórzano and Tamara Adrián, as well as Henrique Capriles, Freddy Superlano and Carlos Prosperi, to identify and compare the disinformation, propaganda and narratives around these six opposition leaders.

Given the worrying panorama of misinformation and gender-tinged attacks revealed in the #Primarias2023, from the #VzlaInformativeCoalition we analyze the digital conversation around 6 candidates and demonstrate that there were greater hoaxes against women.

For this study, ProBox conducted a social listening analysis on the social media profiles of the candidates until September 28. Click here to read more about the report's fact-finding methodology, which also referenced a previous ANOVA study on gender-based violence in Venezuelan politics in social media.

Read more: Unfreedom Monitor: Civic Media Observatory findings report

C-Informa was able to identify that women were targeted by more disinformation and gender attacks than men, with content focusing mainly on their physique, disqualifying adjectives associated with their gender, and various types of expressions of violence, which, compared to men, were much more recurrent and evident. A conclusion derived from ProBox's social listening analysis, in which at least 71.4 percent of online gender attacks and disinformation were received by women candidates.

Sell-out, traitor and homosexual: these were the attacks on men

Carlos Prosperi, Henrique Capriles and Freddy Superlano. Image used with permission.

ProBox identified at least 678 words in comments and responses to Henrique Capriles’ posts and third parties’ posts about him, 505 of which were general attacks, 22 uninformative, and 21 gender attacks. Hate speech against Capriles was predominant over the rest of the attacks. Gender attacks against Capriles mainly talk about his lack of “manhood” to defend votes and call him out as a homosexual.

In the case of the Voluntad Popular candidate, Freddy Superlano, ProBox collected around 267 words, of which 157 were general attacks, 41 on disinformation, and only three were gender attacks. The gender attacks also point to him as a homosexual.

ProBox identified 267 words aimed at Carlos Prosperi, highlighting 61 general attack words and two gender attack words. The general attacks refer mainly to the term “alacrán” (scorpion), “vende patria” (traitor), and “vendido,” (sell-out), while the gender attacks also label him as a homosexual.

Crazy, violent, slutty: women as disinformation targets

Delsa Solórzano, Maria Corina Machado and Tamara Adrián: the three women candidates in the opposition presidential primaries 2023. Image used with permission.

According to C-Informa's findings, María Corina Machado was the candidate in the process with the highest amount of disinformative content against her, which is also consistent with the overwhelming electoral support she received. ProBox conducted a social listening study and found around 257 words, highlighting that 83 of them were digital attacks, 21 attacks that talked about legal issues, 20 were specifically linked to gender attacks, and five were hoaxes and disinformation.

Among these words stand out narratives promoted from the program “Con el Mazo Dando,” broadcasted by the state channel Venezolana de Televisión and hosted by Diosdado Cabello, such as “no te vistas que no vas” (don’t get ready, you’re not going), “loca” (crazy), and “sayona” (ghost from venezuelan folklore) before the election, and “así chilles o patalees, no vas” (whether you scream or kick, you're not going), after.

Cazadores de Fake News (CFN) also identified María Corina Machado as the main recipient of disinformation, having at least 72 percent of the 46 cases they managed to identify between January and November 2023. The main narratives against her had to do with her alleged inability to exercise a position of power and with discrediting attacks, for which they used old statements to portray her as an “anti-democratic leader” who is against the Venezuelan people or who does not have popular support.

Some hoaxes were attacks misrepresenting her speech, which attempted to minimize the popular support for her or to divert attention from the attacks received during her campaign. Disinformation was also circulated about Machado's false psychological disorders, or her false addiction to drugs. 

In the case of Delsa Solórzano, ProBox was able to identify 103 words in social media publications as of September 28, almost a month before the primaries, obtaining at least 51 general attack terms, 14 gender and one linked to disinformation. Most of the attacks on Solórzano are linked to her physical appearance, talking about “surgeries” and “Botox,” as well as disqualifying her for, according to these misogynistic attacks, being “a slut” and “being very hot” because of her “self-interest in her physique.”

In addition to this list, there are two disinformative units detected by Medianálisis that talk about Solórzano being “in love with Hugo Chávez” and the misrepresentation of her statements, pretending to be against María Corina Machado. Likewise, CFN also found content replicating Solorzano's alleged love affair with the late Venezuelan president and the alleged financing of this candidate by a German foundation. 

False: Did Delsa Solórzano hold a meeting to demand that María Corina Machado be replaced in the opposition candidacy?

Delsa Solórzano denied Cabello's accusations and ratified his support for Machado's candidacy, as well as the demand for better electoral conditions

Follow [the thread]…

In the case of Tamara Adrián, ProBox managed to collect 202 words, highlighting 43 words of general attacks and 43 of gender attacks, the latter being the most recurrent phenomenon in the discourse against her and in the hoaxes that circulated on social media. CFN also found at least one disinformative unit linked to Adrian.

The most recurrent words and narratives talked about her gender, emphasizing that “she is a man” and that “she thinks she is a woman” as well as the use of the term “trans” in a derogatory way as well as calling her by her deadname.

Probox also interviewed Delsa Solórozano and Tamara Adrián. Read more about what they had to say about gendered attacked against them in the full report.

Screenshot of a comment made by an X user using Tamara Adrian's deadname as an answer to an article about her campaign. Adrián is Venezuela's first transgender candidate. Used with permission.

Gender did play a leading role in disinformation and digital attacks

In overall numbers, ProBox's analysis of the most used words in comments on social media posts by then-candidates María Corina Machado, Delsa Solórzano, Tamara Adrián, Henrique Capriles, Freddy Superlano and Carlos Prosperi, as well as top posts by third parties talking about them, showed that at least 71.4 percent of online gender attacks and disinformation were received by women candidates.

In addition, in the collection of positive words about the six candidates analyzed, women received much fewer, only 39.4 percent, while men obtained 60.6 percent of the positive words about their candidacy.

You can listen to this full report in Spanish here:

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