Consumption of news via social media grows in Venezuela in the midst of restrictions to traditional media

Given the various policies of the current Venezuelan government that restrict the free circulation of information in traditional media, social networks have become an alternative for news consumption among Venezuelans. This is according to a study commissioned by the human rights advocacy organization Espacio Público.

Carlos Correa, director of the organization, told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that this use of alternative media has become a common trend given the confluence of the economic and political crisis facing the country and the recent development of technological tools that facilitate communication.

“Some news no longer fits in the conventional networks of information (…) The news of looting at local food vendors gains more coverage in social networks [like Twitter and Facebook]; in traditional media, such news is unimaginable,” he said.

Traditional media in Venezuela have faced censorship and retaliation after publishing news that can be interpreted as being critical of the government.

The study was developed in February and created by the consultancy Datanalisis and commissioned by Espacio Público. It was based on 600 interviews conducted in five major cities in Venezuela: Caracas, Valencia, Miranda, Ciudad Bolívar and Maracaibo. The sample of respondents came from different age groups and there were an equal number of men and women, all from disadvantaged socio-economic sectors.

The study indicated that the internet is the third most used media for finding news content after cable television and open-signal television.

According to Correa, in the context of the crisis plaguing Venezuela, freedom of expression “is being hit hard” and this creates “space for public deliberation [that] decreases a lot in the traditional media.”

Other important variables that mark the growing trend of the use of social networks as alternative news media in Venezuela is the updating of information, ease of access and interactivity. In that sense, according to the study, Venezuelans prefer using Facebook and Twitter to find out about national affairs. Seventy percent of respondents spend, on average, between 30 minutes and two hours each day looking for news on the internet, Facebook and Twitter.

According to Correa, the Twitter accounts of Venezuelan journalists have significantly more followers than others in the region. For example, the director cited Venezuelan communicator Nelson Bocaranda who has more than 2 million followers.

“The penetration of use of smart phones to consume news on social networks in Venezuela is above 60 percent” in less advantaged socio-economic sectors, which are commonly referred to as sectors C, D and E in socioeconomic studies, Correa said to the Knight Center.

The expert also noted that in recent digital consumer studies from the region, Venezuelan users are considered “intense” consumers on social networks.

Additionally, Correa said that this also gives space to the figure of the “infociudadano.” This term is used to describe people who share relevant information, “curating” information they post on their personal accounts on social networks.

For Espacio Público, journalists, as well as human rights activists and infociudadanos that record news with the help of smartphones, run the risk of being victims of attacks by the state security forces.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.