Teachers ignored: How the Venezuelan government overshadows the teacher’s protests with digital propaganda

Image by Probox. Used with permission.

This article was written by #LupaElectoral, a team of Venezuelan journalists and independent media that confronts disinformation. #LupaElectoral is made up of ProBox, RunRunes, El Pitazo, Tal Cual, Redes Ayuda, Medianálisis and EsPaja. An edited version is republished by Global Voices under a content sharing agreement with Probox. 

Teachers in the Venezuelan public education system are the lowest paid in Latin America, making between USD 3 and 30 a month. Unable to survive on that salary, many have left their profession or emigrated from the country. Teachers who have stayed have been driving some of the largest protests seen in Venezuela since 2020, as they demand improvements to their pay conditions amid sky-high inflation.

Although teachers in Venezuela are not the only ones affected by the low salaries, they represent one of the most active and organized sectors of society, both in street protests and online, where their complaints against public policies are almost continuous. Although Nicolas Maduro‘s communication machinery is robust enough to divert the focus of attention or to set the tone of the conversation on social media, public workers and teachers have made room among the avalanche of propaganda and official misinformation to denounce the violations of their labor rights.

The Venezuelan Federation of Teachers (FVM) reported in July 2023 that during the entire 2022–2023 school period, 3,185 protests were held, most of them focused on decent salaries. In spite of this, neither Nicolás Maduro nor Minister of Education Yelitze Santaella have called for a discussion of the collective contract for a renewal adjusted to the economic reality faced by Venezuela.

The Ministry of Education has a debt that has amounted to 280 percent of the workers’ salary. It must be noted that the base salary of a teacher in the public education system in Venezuela is below the current minimum salary, which is USD 3.6 at the official exchange rate. 

Not all social media trends are real

The teacher’s street protests in Venezuela have been overshadowed on social media by the narratives promoted by the propaganda apparatus at the service of Maduro's government. The protagonist of propaganda systems in Venezuela is the Ministry of Communication (MIPPCI), which has dominated the Venezuelan socio-political conversation.

Teacher's protest in Caracas, Venezuela. 2023. Screenshot of CGTN America coverage on YouTube: Venezuela’s teachers can’t survive on salaries. Fair use.

In 2023 ProBox registered 821 socio-political trends positioned on X (formerly Twitter) in Venezuela by tracking hashtags, of which 53 were promoted by civil society, accumulating just over 500 thousand messages. Teachers were responsible for 11 of these 53 hashtags, being the second most active group in online social protest, surpassed only by citizens in general. Next to the conversation promoted by the ruling party, this number is extremely small, since the other 666 trends of the year came from the state, accumulating more than 195 million messages. 

Read more: Unfreedom Monitor Report: Venezuela

In 2023 alone, MIPPCI generated 900 times more messages than teachers, making the digital protest invisible and ignoring the union's claims. In electoral contexts, this disparity is much more acute, since the official machinery focuses all its efforts on amplifying propaganda to promote candidates or processes that directly benefit them. 

According to our records, in the last four years teachers have managed to position 248 hashtags protesting on X with almost 1.8 billion messages, while the regime in the same period has promoted 3,590 trends with more than 710 million posts.

In addition, an average of 60.11 percent of the regime’s messages of the last four years have been made inorganically or inauthentically, while 71.56 percent of the teachers’ protests have been promoted by real users.

Teacher's Day: fact vs. fiction online

Every January 15, MIPPCI  promotes as the hashtag of the day a trend to commemorate Teachers’ Day. In parallel, educators give more strength to their protests. In 2021, for example, the MIPPCI promoted the hashtag #MaestrosDeLaPatria (Teachers of Homeland), stating that: 

La llegada de la Revolución Bolivariana, dignificó a los educadores con diferentes avances y logros que nos permiten fortalecer la calidad educativa. ¡Nuestros docentes van sembrando las semillas del futuro de Venezuela!

The arrival of the Bolivarian Revolution has dignified educators with different advances and achievements that allow us to strengthen the quality of education. Our teachers are sowing the seeds of the future of Venezuela! 

This accumulated more than 853,000 messages but, on average, 93.33 percent of them were generated by potentially automated or non-authentically coordinated accounts.

Screenshot taken by Probox. Used with permission.

Teachers, for their part, promoted #MaestrosHumilladosPorMaduro (#TeachersHumiliatedbyMaduro) which totaled just over 2,500 denouncing the precariousness of salaries, especially when comparing prices with the basic food basket of the country at the time. Around 67 percent of these messages were made organically or authentically, that is, by real accounts and not by bots or tweeting troops being paid to promote propaganda.

Turning the magnifying glass to new platforms

Although X continues to be the most used platform when it comes to digital protest in Venezuela, Probox put a magnifying glass on the conversation surrounding the teachers’ protest on TikTok. Although the social media platform prohibits political advertising or advertising “based on sensitive topics,” socio-political content and official propaganda abound on the platform in various forms. 

Read more: How the Venezuelan government uses social media to cover up its biggest corruption case

After searching for keywords such as “teachers Venezuela,” “teacher protests Venezuela,” and “teacher salaries Venezuela,” Probox collected the top 10 videos according to the number of views on the network. As of January 22, 2024, these accumulated a total of 2.6 million views, 89,831 likes, and 2,172 comments and have been shared at least 11,250 times.

The most popular video of the sample was published by the account @abogle0nel_santiag0 on January 09, 2023, linked to the teachers’ protest in the state of Barinas on that date demanding a salary increase, totaling around 1,200,000 reproductions. 43,700 likes, 1,082 comments and has been shared at least 5,779 times.

@abogle0nel_santiag0Docentes protestan por un salario digno en Barinas Venezuela 🇻🇪♬ sonido original – 🇻🇪AbogLeonel 💯🧿 santiago

In addition, a video of the NGO PROVEA published on July 16, 2022, shows a teacher singing to Nicolás Maduro and the Ministry of Education in a protest held at that time against the Onapre instructions, demanding the vindication of her labor rights.    

@proveaong Maestra le canta en protesta a #Maduro y al Ministerio de #Educación. Protestan contra la #Onapre que elimina sus conquistas laborales. Ellos tienen derecho a sus beneficios #Lucha #Protesta #Provea #Canto ♬ Cumbia Buena – Grupo La Cumbia

Overshadowed during elections

In electoral contexts, the digital landscape is even more unfavorable for protests that are already pressured by the rise of pro-government propaganda. This is demonstrated by comparing the evolution of teacher's protests trending topics with social media propaganda registered by Probox from 2020 to December 2023, a period in which Venezuela went through legislative elections, regional elections, internal party elections, opposition primaries and the consultation on the Essequibo. 

Evolution of trendings topics of teacher's protests in Venezuela vs. Government propaganda during elections. Blue: teachers / Red: government propaganda / Yellow: Elections trending topics. Graph made by Probox. Used with permission.

Public workers, retirees and pensioners and the teachers’ union have been demanding for years the renewal of the collective contracts agreement and the updating of the salary tables in Venezuela; however, the state continues to ignore their demands and has used the discourse of economic sanctions to justify the economic decline experienced by the workers.

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