By: Soumadip Dey
Claim: According to stories circulated on social media and news portals, the coveted blue tick beside a social media profile, which proves that the account is genuine, was removed from the Venezuelan politician Nicolás Maduro’s Facebook and Instagram page following the recent political events in Venezuela.
Sources: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and news portals.
What Happened: Rumours of Facebook and Instagram removing the ‘blue tick’ sign from the account of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro are doing the rounds on social media. The coveted ‘blue tick’ is a verification badge given to the social media account of a public figure or brand. Its purpose is to ascertain that the account actually represents the person or brand, and is not a false or dubious one.
The authentication mark is much sought after in the social media sphere. However, according to social media users, the authentication mark for Nicolás Maduro’s profile was recently removed and given to his rival, Juan Guaidó.
Venezuela is currently going through a severe political crisis, exacerbated by hyperinflation, power cuts, and food shortages. Nicolás Maduro was re-elected as president in the 2018 presidential elections, the results of which, however, were disputed both by the opposition as well as by other governments and international observers. The protests escalated after the National Assembly of Venezuela stated that the results of the election were invalid and declared Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, the acting president.
A number of countries, including the United States and Canada, are backing Mr Guaidó as president. While many European leaders oppose Maduro, Russia, Mexico, and Turkey have all expressed support for the incumbent Venezuelan president. In this context, the apparent removal of authentication of Maduro’s social media handle by Facebook and Instagram (which is also owned by the US company Facebook) can be interpreted in a quite a few ways.
The head of the Russian Duma criticized Facebook for giving Juan Guaidó a blue verification badge while denying it to its elected president. According to Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Lower Chamber in the Russian Parliament, “It’s quite surprising when such big social networks, which claim to be independent, act in this way, playing to the tune of Washington,”
Facts: The claim that Maduro’s accounts were deliberately unverified is completely false. Metafact used the tool Wayback Machine, which allows users to examine archived versions of a website, and found that Maduro’s profiles were never verified to begin with. The most recent archive of Maduro’s Instagram profile that can be found on the tool is from the 6th of October, 2017. At that time, his profile did not have the blue tick.
The situation is similar with his Facebook page. It has been archived almost every day in 2019 and multiple times in 2018. It is clear from the archive that the Facebook profile of Maduro never received the ‘blue tick’ either, and thus the claim about him being ‘un-verified’ on Facebook and Instagram is simply not true.
Conclusion: While the situation in Venezuela is undeniably severe, given the level of the social and political crisis and the magnitude of the protests taking place, this is a clear case where false news was manufactured as political propaganda. While it is not clear who circulated these false rumours to begin with, it did get a lot of attention and made it to a number of news portals. Social media users are warned not to fall for similar fake news and double check potentially dubious claims with a reputable fact-checker before sharing.