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Alejandra Schwarz | Censorship and Social Media

Alejandra Schwarz | Censorship and Social Media

Venezuela's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world
Venezuela's ranking in the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index

Photograph of Alejandra Schwarz

About the Author
Alejandra Schwarz (she/her)

Alejandra Schwarz is an undergraduate fellow in the Global Arts and Humanities' 2020-21 Society of Fellows cohort. Schwarz is pursuing a major in Russian with a minor in Spanish. She is originally from Venezuela but has been calling Ohio home for the past six years. Her points of interests focus mainly in Russian history and language and how people communicate with each other in authoritarian regimes. Schwarz plans to pursue a PhD in second language acquisition at The Ohio State University after graduation.

Project Overview

During Soviet times, authors distributed their works through very creative means to reach broader audiences and to bypass censorship. Coming from Venezuela, where censorship has been on the rise during my lifetime, I was inspired to take a look into how Venezuelans approach obtaining information, how they measure the reliability of the information they consume, especially with the rise of “fake news”, and how have they’ve taken advantage of social media in order to circumvent government-backed restrictions.

Venezuela has been mentioned by politicians every now and then as an example of a failed socialist state, as a warning of a what a country should or shouldn’t do. In the midst of food shortages and electric outages, there is an issue that has affected Venezuelans which was very much created by the government: censorship.

The right to freedom speech in Venezuela has been severely hindered and restricted in the past 20 years, first by the late president Chavez, and now by his successor, Nicolas Maduro. It started out in 2002, when the Venezuelan media openly showed the protests and attempted coup d’état on Chavez. These protests were later met by strong government opposition in the form of a censorship law that was passed, commonly known in Venezuela as Ley Resorte. This law, which was considered by the international community as a blow to freedom of speech in Venezuela, was now to be followed by all radio, tv stations, newspapers, and any kind of public media operating in the country. Failure to adhere to this law was met with severe consequences, such as being forbidden from broadcasting.

In the legal framework of this law, in 2007, RCTV, the longest running television station in Venezuela was denied the right to further broadcasting. While some may argue that the government was within its rights to enforce this law, others saw it as a means to pressure the existing media into toeing a party line. The closure of this channel also brings forth the question of should the government be the one in charge of denying or accepting television or radio stations from broadcasting? Since then, this law has been used on multiple radio stations and it effectively curtailed the access to unbiased and free information in Venezuela.

Parallel to all of this happening though, the rise of social media also happened. For this research, my questions of interest have been, how do Venezuelans access information in an age where their country is ridden with state sponsored media censorship while also having access to social media? How do they determine what information is correct or false when they seek alternative avenues of informing themselves, such as twitter, Facebook or Instagram? And with an ongoing health pandemic in the world, what are the stakes for Venezuelans who cannot access reliable and verifiable information about the coronavirus?

These questions hit very close to home for me, as I am Venezuelan with family and friends still living there.

In order to answer my questions, I interviewed four people; two of them who are living in Venezuela and two who are abroad. Their answers give us much insight into how important it is to have free, unlimited access to reliable information, because for those who are in Venezuela, having fake or doctored information can have grave consequences. During this past year where a global pandemic has swept through the world, for places like Venezuela, false or misleading information can be detrimental for the entire health, wellbeing and even survival of those who are in the country. 

This pool is by no means exhaustive, their opinions will most likely lean towards a very specific side of the political spectrum, and while their perspectives can be attributed to their upbringing, social class, education, gender and/or age, it is still very relevant and necessary to understand and appreciate their voices as they shed light into people of similar backgrounds may be thinking. All of the people interviewed are college graduates, two of them are in their mid to late 20s, while the other two are in their 50s and 60s. Two of the people whom I’ve interviewed are currently residing in Venezuela and two of them are abroad in different countries. This pool was chosen very intentionally as in the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in the Venezuelan diaspora. It is necessary to understand that the censorship, lack of freedom of speech in Venezuela as well as the limited access to reliable sources, has an effect that is not limited to those only residing in Venezuela but it also affects those living abroad.

  • Glenys is a university professor in language and literature with over 25 years of experience across different universities in the central region of Venezuela.
  • Maria is in her late 20s. She’s an economist who was born and raised in Venezuela. She is currently residing in Argentina.
  • Victor is a Venezuelan doctor in his mid 20s. He still lives in his hometown in Venezuela where he works at a local hospital.
  • Jesus worked as an accountant and college professor in Venezuela for over 30 years where he was widely respected by his peers. Jesus is currently living in the United States.

Maria (1)
“I define them as limited, mainly because of the laws that exist there, they’re not reliable”. “when you watch the news in Venezuela, they don’t reflect the reality of a common citizen. They don’t show that there is hyperinflation, that there’s a lot of insecurity, they don’t show any of that.”

Glenys (2)
“They are completely censored. They are means of communication to inform with a lot of fear, fear of being closed, so the radios and tv stations that are open, which are very few, tread carefully. They are not outspoken about the government, they don’t make critics as to how they are censored, but instead they end up promoting what [the government] says or does.”

Victor (3)
“It’s a mess, because we don’t know where to look for real information, there’s too much fake news. Everything is staged to whatever is convenient at the moment. If I for example want to find information about any topic, we have to find ways, because the newspapers we used to trust can’t be found. They’re all virtual. The radio is all what’s convenient to the government, if they tell the truth, they take your channel away, they take your broadcasting rights. It’s always changing because it’s up to the government, we don’t want to talk about them but it’s what’s convenient to them. So, it’s a mess. I definite it like that right now, we can’t say it’s great because it’s not.”

Jesus (4)
“they are completely controlled by the state. This was a process they started since they got into power. they started buying the media, the printed press, television and radio. They were covering each different spectrums of communication until they controlled all of the communication spectrum in Venezuela.” “It’s proven that the means of communication were absorbed by the current government and those who aren’t, they’ve been acquired by [close relations] of [them] so through this way they have an absolute control of [it] at every level. And what they don’t control, which can be argued is social media, they have a controlling stake through internet Access. The internet in Venezuela is controlled by CANTV (similar to Spectrum or AT&T, but owned by the state in a monopoly kind of way) which is state owned, from there they control everything, they take away and put it according to their whims since that is where social media resides."


 In 2013, the only remaining outspoken television station in Venezuela, Globovision, was bought by a group who had close ties to the Venezuelan regime. After this transfer of ownership, Venezuela was left with no outlet of dissent. Between this, the legislation in effect to this day regarding media, and the limited access to resources to either produce content or print it, in the case of newspapers, there has been a diminishment in free or easily accessible informative channels. These are concerns mention by all four of the people who responded to this.

“They have been extremely smart in that sense, they have invaded the media, which is an interesting and strategic way of reaching people” “that’s why one has to try to read and keep yourself informed by different ways, by following international media with reporters here, then you more or less can establish a criterion with respect to what the government invents added to that, the social reality which one lives every day.”

“[Information on social media] is not reliable in general, it will depend directly on who’s publishing it. The veracity and trustworthiness are given by who is publishing in my opinion."

“the sources can change depending on the topic and the trajectory of the journalist or mean of information. I analyze them and there are some that I used to use and not anymore. Many journalists in Venezuela enjoyed great credibility were absorbed by the government or by the people investing in lobbying, they manipulate information or to lead people to believe truths that are lie.” “all information has to be verified, whoever consumes the news from social media without verifying can be receiving information that’s fake. It is needed, if one wants to be well informed to verify that information." 

“if I have some information I read on Instagram, then I go to “Caraota Digital” (Digital Bean, a news website), I always go there because they have real information or some virtual newspaper. Before, they [the newspapers] were faster in giving information, they take longer now because they have to verify it first”.


Controlling the channels and venues by which people can communicate or obtain information has affected and permeated into the collective conscious of all the persons who participated in this research. They have expressed their concerns into the truthfulness and veracity of the information that can be found on social media as well as in the existing news sources. While it can be challenging and time-consuming to determine whether certain information is reliable or not, it has also allowed the participants to do their own due diligence when it comes to informing themselves. It is important to note though, that this kind of critical thinking when it comes to consuming information can be attributed to their own personal traits or it can also be attributed to their socio-economical background affecting how they perceive the world around them. More research would have to be conducted amongst a bigger, more diverse group to determine the patterns in which different groups consume news.

“through social media is where one, especially on Instagram, can inform oneself more of what’s going on in the country.” “Social media here in Venezuela, based on what I’ve perceived, has become in a very important tool to communicate what tv channels and radio stations don’t dare to communicate. Through social mead you can see a bit more of the reality”. “Social media has become a very interesting mean to us because it has allowed us to see the reality of other states in the country and even our own state, by following people who are serious and who luckily haven’t had their accounts blocked or haven’t been taken to jail/prison, because those who make too outward comments [against the government], well, they go to jail”

“I think [social media] is great. I think they keep us connected and that they’re very information for countries, they influence directly in the knowledge of the population and they’re a window to cases like Venezuela, where the national means of communication are limited. It gives you the possibility of obtaining information that comes from other sources.” “I think social media gives us the possibility to access a lot of information, but it is up to each one of us to process and filter that information and decide whether it’s true or false.”

“Our real mean of communication is twitter. Because we are going to see there what the people tweet, people like you, who are on site. Not what the TV shows or the radio because you listen to the radio and you’re left like “no, I was there and it wasn’t like that”.

“the problem is who controls social media. The owners are using it to censor and they practically want to close accounts because the incite hate or they slander people. I’ve seen it on my own in my country, the first one to incite hate is Maduro. They have a show that says it all with the name, [something along the lines of Giving it with the Mallet] (El Mazo Dando). They incite hate and they never have had their accounts closed, it hasn’t even been questioned, I don’t think it can be hard for [them] to close these accounts to these drug traffickers and criminals who are the Venezuelan government. “Social media is not fully contaminated. There are people have have transmitted information which has allowed when things like death of people, human trafficking and other sorts of crimes, these people have evaded through social media the filters the government has imposed and the self-censorship which traditional media goes by.”


Social media in Venezuela has helped these participants keep themselves informed, undoubtedly. However, according to Business Insider, the Venezuelan government has been reported to ‘blackout’ the internet when it is convenient to them, especially when there is unrest in the country. This finding also coincides with the Ezhan Hasan’s finding in his article about the reasons as to why certain regimes repress social media. In his article, Hasan shows that the Maduro government has engaged in selective censorship during key moments during his regime, such as during the 2014 protests, the repression has included, but not is limited to, censorship of messages as well as internet blackouts. In 2014, Maduro also blocked from broadcasting NTN24, the only tv channel openly showing the protests that occurred. This demonstrates that while Venezuelans may turn to social media as a way of obtaining news, they are also at the mercy of the government’s grip of this medium. As mentioned by one of the participants, government officials also have an online presence where they are able to communicate with their followers and spread their own information. Interestingly enough, while President Trump has been banned from Twitter, Nicolas Maduro, a leader who has been accused of human rights violation is still allowed to have an active account Twitter account.

Yes, I think it’s extremely difficult [to get information about Venezuela]. You can’t trust the media there because they don’t say anything negative about the government, but you can find information around or the information you get is from people who are actually not in Venezuela. So, your valid information is not coming directly from a traditional source, it’s coming from people who are in Venezuela, in my case is my family. I’ve read many times new son Instagram and they’re crazy and I call my mom to ask and she says no, nothing’s going on. Then it’s not very reliable for me, and it’s hard to determine what’s trustworthy or not.” “when there was the massive [electric] outage about two years ago, I spent a week unable to communicate with my family, I didn’t know what was going on, because the media there also didn’t know what was going on. At the end they said it was a failure and such, but they said there was a coup d’état. In reality, for those of us who are abroad, to not have the certainty of what’s going on during an extreme event like it is not to be able to communicate with your family is very difficult and complicated.”

“there is information [about Venezuela], the problem is whether is true or not. It comes to a point with disinformation turns back on itself and you don’t know what’s true or a lie.”


The Venezuelan diaspora is numbered around 5.6 million people as of April of 2021 according to the Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela. As families are being separated because of the current climate found in their country of origin, Venezuelans abroad have their own set of concerns about the information they can find about their country and how it can impact them. As one of the participants recollected, she was unable to communicate with her family for over a week, not knowing what was going on, and unable to find information as to what was going on.

“It has been contradictory. At the beginning, there was too much information and you become scared, you don’t even want to go outside, but then you start seeing that the government shares the conditions for you to take care of yourself and then you can see them without masks or they’re meeting without social distancing. You start to question what is this, I have to be at home, is this true? The government shows the complete opposite.” “I see that it’s been a huge manipulation so that people won’t protest in public” “Here three people will die, but 400 were infected and three pass away. I mean, you know it’s a lie.”

“in Venezuela, they don’t have the statistics for hyperinflation, how can you expect them to have the numbers of coronavirus’ cases? From the get go there is a huge distrust in the government, it is not reliable, I will always have doubts whether it was true or lie. My logic tells me that is a lie because of all I’m telling you. You have other countries you can compare it too; besides you have a level of distrust, I mean, they didn’t test people, and there will have all those numbers, you won’t ever know the magnitude.” “imagine this, my mom had pneumonia and she was never tested [for covid], she went for a month and a half not being able to breathe properly, being nebulized. In my case, the coverage and reporting aren’t good, if they don’t test you when you have pneumonia, how am I going to believe that the data is correct?”

“I had masks because I bought them myself, I had face shields because I paid for them, but a lot of doctors didn’t have them, and that’s what happened in Venezuela that many doctors died because they didn’t have the biosecurity means to protect themselves of the pandemic” “besides, they reported whatever was convenient for them, because there were many problems that [were ignored] because of the pandemic, they used to increase the attention to the pandemic so that people would focus on that rather than the other issues that exist in Venezuela”. “there weren’t the number of cases that they said at the beginning, but when they really started to increase, nobody believed in the pandemic anymore”.

“all the numbers have been undercounted by a lot from the reality. They are reporting that practically nothing has happened there when in reality a lot of people have died or been sick.”


The stakes around the misinformation in which the Venezuelan government has engaged by their own publications and presence in the media as well as through their tight control of differing information have had grave consequences; the general public does not believe what they tell they are told, and while this can have no real-life impact in certain circumstances, it can also have catastrophic consequences because people can get sick and die due to the mistrust that exist in the information. Freedom of speech doesn’t only affect journalists, it affects every single human being that inhabits a nation which purposely hinders the free right to information of quality, it undermines the trust in the state as an entity and creates discord among people.

The situation in Venezuela has also led for the citizens to take matters into their own hands and as evidenced, they all take an active role in getting informed. Venezuelans have had to develop critical thinking around who they can and cannot believe. However, this process brings forth problems as to the impartiality of the sources they’re seeking. It can lead to just consuming information that they want to hear rather than a more well-rounded approach to it.

The issue surrounding the cost and access to gasoline is not one that was limited to one person, but rather both of the people whom I interviewed who were both in Venezuela mentioned the problem surround it and how it is not acknowledged by the government publicly. Both of them expressed that while there has been coverage of the pandemic, the issue with the shortages for gasoline was not being exposed.

Two of the interviewed, who are currently living in Venezuela, have alleged that the government has used the pandemic as a smokescreen tactic to avoid talking about a pressing issue: the shortage of gasoline. Venezuela, a country with the most amount of proven oil reserves in the world, has been facing steep shortages of gasoline, these shortages in turn have led to extremely long lines outside gas stations that can lasts for days. The cause of the shortages can be attributed to mismanagement and lack of investment in the existing refineries leading to them operating well under their daily capabilities, recent sanctions by the United States have also contributed to the worsening of the situation (reuters).

Regardless of the causes of the shortages, the two participants shared their opinions and views on the issue. Here is what they said about it:

  • Glenys
    “I can tell you about the problem with gasoline, they don’t admit the terribly long lines that exist to buy it […] They don’t admit that, they don’t publish that, they just say it’s a lie or when a refinery explodes, they just tell it will be fixed in two to three days, but everybody comes out and says that’s not true, that maybe in two to three months. That has been a great manipulation which nobody believes because we are out on the streets and we know how much it costs."
  • Victor
    “Imagine this, in all states there are [long] lines for gasoline, and that’s not something that the media shows. People are used to it; they have WhatsApp groups where they’re like: hey, gas [truck] arrived and the people go join the line. That’s something normal and they go without biosecurity [masks], people don’t take precautions, people sleepover there [in the lines], their defenses are low, because they spend five, six days and up to a week waiting for gasoline.”

Venezuela has taken an approach towards quarantine slightly different than the one taken in different US states, in Venezuela there is a week of quarantine followed by a week of flexibility. It is baffling though, because for the Christmas holidays, it was all a month of “flexibility” as if COVID-19 is gone because the government says it is, the threat is still there, but the information coming from the country’s leaders is different, it is baffling for Venezuelans to live through this because it makes them question the veracity and gravity of what’s going on. In this sense, even though the government may censor and control the information that they’re outputting, the access to news sources from abroad helps Venezuelans understand and question what is going on in their own country.

In early 2020, when the pandemic started to spread out of its epicenter, the Human Rights Watch had expressed concerns about the threat COVID-19 posed not only to Venezuela but also to the region due to worrisome state of the Venezuelan health system. In essence, the current pandemic has tested the capabilities of the Venezuelan government, not only in their crisis solving skills, but it has also highlighted the problems around the toxic environment for freedom of press and freedom of speech Venezuelans have to navigate in order to keep themselves informed. Throughout the years, the tightening of control around all sources around violent crimes, medical statistics, the state of the economy and inflation, along some other issues, have undermined the reliability and public confidence in the regime as shown by the people I had the opportunity of interviewing. They all shared disbelief around the cases of covid cases and the fatalities, they also expressed disbelief about the effectiveness of the measures taken. It is problematic, to say the least, the amount of distrust that exists within certain people about what’s going on and where the information is coming from.

This research has shown that there are valid concerns about the lack of transparency and censorship enforcement in the news media environment in Venezuela. The ramification that this behavior has had in the people of Venezuela cannot certainly be undermined. Through this research, it can also be evident that media literacy and due diligence when accessing information exists, but the extent of it, is unknown, it is also necessary to note that this level of literacy can also be motivated and influenced by a person’s background. Despite individuals being able to critically navigate the influx of information, this skill should be broadly and widely accessible to everybody. The stakes of accessing free information and that determining the validity of an any piece is important now more than ever, especially when considering the ever-changing world, we inhabit, where a pandemic swept through the world unexpectedly and so much conflicting information has come about it.

Photograph of oil drums and valve with Venezuelan flag painted on it