Opinion makers

In a country with strongly politicised and mistrusted media and with a very negative situation for professional journalists, alternative voices have gained space in the public discourse. One of the most relevant cases are the websites or social media accounts showing the exchange rate between different currencies, mainly the US Dollar, something that the government, who fixes artificial exchange rates between the Venezuelan Bolívar and other currencies, considered illegal for 16 years, until May 2019, when the exchange of currency was liberalized, what led to a stronger presence of this type of information in many media. Some examples are the Twitter account Monitor Dolar Vzla (@monitodolarvla), Dolarizante.com, the more international site AirTM, or Dolar Today, which also includes sensationalists news, mostly against the government, quite often published by citizens instead of journalists, and with little verification or quality, sometimes being just fake news. Other sites that offer this Due to the hyperinflation and the need of international currency, this page is very popular and influential in the exchange rate that people use in their daily life, as well in opposition circles, especially for economic, financial and political information. The headquarters of this medium and the people or organizations behind it are not known.

Another page that should be mentioned here is that of the Asamblea Popular Revolucionaria Americana (American Popular Revolutionary Assembly), Aporrea.org, founded as a citizen movement to defend the achievement of socialism after the attempted coup d’état against Chávez in 2002. This political support group has evolved into a very influential digital site that clearly defends the views of the government.

Finally, although relevant in every country, in one such as Venezuela, with a strong autocratic tendency, the political leaders, especially the president, are particularly important opinion makers. According to legislation, broadcasters are forced to offer all the messages the government considers of public service. Henceforth, the use of Twitter and radio and television broadcasters by Chávez and Maduro has been highly influential in public discourse. The weekly television program Aló Presidente, conducted by Hugo Chávez between 1999 and 2012, is a good example. Diosdado Cabello, president of the Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (Constituent National Assembly), also conducts a TV program in the public channel VTV, called Con el Mazo Dando. Other voices, such as those of the opposition members Henrique Capriles or Leopoldo López, and in 2019 the one of the “interim President”, Juan Guaidó, are also significant and particularly strong in social networks, with millions of followers and interactions.

It must be mentioned, before finishing this paragraph, that it is not possible to clearly separate the influence of opinion makers and the relevance of social networks that were highlighted in 1.5 due to their strong interconnection. Both social networks and opinion makers, although sometimes represent the only way to find independent information, usually show the lack of professional and reliable structures and increase the risk of a spread of fake news and disinformation.