Mariam Gómez claims to be “faithful to the Homeland and to the Revolution” on her Twitter account @mpgcibermambisa. But in reality his profile picture, with his back exposed, is not from a real person but was taken from an article on the internet about how to get the best tan.
On his Twitter profile, user Kaleb Guevara reproduces a phrase attributed to Ernesto “Che” Guevara: “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” The profile photo also reminds of the controversial Argentine figure, a young brunette with a beard, with a cigar on his lips. But it does not belong to a person called “Kaleb Guevara” but to the Canadian model Nick Bateman.
These are just two examples of more than a hundred of what appear to be false profiles that appear on www.lasciberclarias.com, a new site that identifies Twitter accounts that spread propaganda and disinformation from Cuba.
“I have been investigating the subject a lot because it was alarming to me the number of accounts that I found on Twitter promoting labels such as #DeZurdaTeam, #SomosContinuidad,” which are first published by accounts of Cuban officials or official media, said Raúl Danglade, a computer engineer Cuban graduate of Florida International University and creator of the new site.
Generally these accounts, which activists and experts suppose are managed by people in the service of the Cuban government, do not have photos of people but of elements that allude to Cuba, such as the flag, Danglade observed, but “it was striking to me to see that other accounts They did have photos of people, but none of them seemed Cuban. ”
Doing a reverse image search and working with Twitter data, Danglade created the website that shows the original source of the images used by these fake accounts. As can be seen, the images come from any corner of the internet.
Twitter user Jonathan1008 only retweets propaganda content related to the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. Your profile picture? A Photoshop mix of singers Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber posted by an Instagram user.
The people or accounts that constantly defend the Cuban government on social networks were informally baptized by Cubans as “cyberclarias”, in a reference to claria, the invasive species that the Cuban government breeds on the island, in the absence of pork , chicken or beef.
Unlike “bots”, or computer programs that are also used to automatically publish information or artificially inflate the number of followers of an account, the profiles identified by lasciberclarias.com They seem to be handled by real people, because of the type of interactions and the content they post, Danglade said.
Although they give more work, they are very effective: about 200 accounts identified on the new site total 200,000 followers, Danglade said.
The site also allows people to report suspicious accounts for investigation.
Since Cuba gradually began to expand Internet access, opponents, activists and independent journalists reported being harassed on the networks by state security. In 2014, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas denounced that state security agents were creating fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook to publish unfavorable content and create division among opponents.
This type of activity on the networks was also described by the opponent Eliécer Avila, who as a student at the University of Computer Sciences in Cuba worked on a project of “technological and political surveillance” known as Operation Truth. Students like Ávila had to “respond” to criticism of the Cuban system on the Internet or discredit political figures, according to an interview with journalist Yoani Sánchez.
With the expansion of the internet service to mobiles and the mass arrival of government officials on social networks, the accounts that seem to be destined to multiply the scope of official propaganda and combat any criticism of the island’s government have multiplied.
Coordination between Cuba and Venezuela
Some of these accounts also disseminate information favorable to the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, another example of how the governments of both countries coordinate their strategies on social networks, as reported by the State Department.
“We have noticed a growing alignment of efforts between accounts that promote disinformation and propaganda narratives of the Russian, Cuban and Maduro regimes,” Lea Gabrielle, coordinator of the State Department’s Center for Global Participation, told the New Herald.
This type of coordination has been taking place for years between the Cuban, Venezuelan, Russian and Iranian state media, which share content and correspondents. Telesur and RT, the Russian network, have their own space in the programming of Cuban television.
Gabrielle said that the accounts linked to the Cuban government and the Maduro regime are located in different countries, exchange content and exhibit “artificial behavior.”
“Taken together, these types of accounts appear to be involved in the intentional weakening and disruption of public debate” and “the artificial amplification of specific narratives,” the official said. The accounts are also engaged in mass publishing and “aggressive retweeting” of content and use tactics such as including the largest number of tags in their posts for artificially trending on Twitter, Gabrielle added.
These efforts, said the official, seek to “obscure the truth” and promote specific foreign policy objectives.
“For example, Cuba has deployed its vast information infrastructure, including accounts associated with its medical brigades worldwide, to promote its unsubstantiated claim that interferon alfa-2B serves as a cure for COVID-19,” he said. Gabrielle.
An analysis of ProBox and the Digital Forensic Laboratory created by the Atlantic Council, a think tank Based in Washington, he also found that accounts connected to the governments of Cuba and Venezuela coordinated efforts to make six labels that criticize the US embargo and support Cuban medical missions become trending on Twitter in May and early April.
“An analysis showed that a small group of accounts generated more than half the volume of mentions per tag in a likely attempt to tamper with the platform,” states the report published on Medium.
The study found that among the most active accounts that promoted the hashtags #ElBloqueoMata and #CubaCoopera are: the official account of the Cuban embassy in Trinidad and Tobago; two accounts associated with the Ministry of Health in the Cuban province of Holguín; the official account of the Cuban missions in the state of Trujillo in Venezuela, and an account that has already been suspended by Twitter of an alleged Cuban doctor in Venezuela.
Twitter has suspended several accounts of Cuban state media, political organizations, and other accounts associated with Cuba this year. But the company has not included Cuba in a public archive of malicious activities that the company believes are linked to state actors.
“We disclose all information operations that we can confidently attribute to a nation state in our public archive, the only one of its kind in the industry,” Ian Plunket, director of public policy communications for Twitter, told the New Herald.
“We have nothing else to share right now,” he added in an email.
Gabrielle said the center she runs is “ready” to partner with technology companies, civil society organizations and other countries interested in combating foreign government influence campaigns on the web.
“We have an ongoing dialogue with technology companies and we are working with them to share our knowledge about the attempts of state and non-state actors to take advantage of their platforms to spread disinformation and propaganda,” said Gabrielle.
“We also partner with organizations in Latin America and the world that are dedicated to analyzing and countering disinformation,” added the official. “We must increase our efforts to combat it.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres