News sites in Venezuela report attacks on their servers and blocking of Twitter and SoundCloud

The blocking of news sites reporting on the ongoing social and political crisis in Venezuela continued as opposition leader Juan Guaidó returned to the country after a 10-day tour of the region seeking support to overthrow the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Guaidó's return was being covered live by news media critical of Maduro and watched by netizens on social networks and on video platforms such as YouTube.

The news sites Efecto Cocuyo and El Pitazo were offline in Venezuela for at least two hours on March 4, as the media outlets reported. The platforms Twitter and SoundCloud reported restricted access, according to the NetBlocks observatory.

According to Efecto Cocuyo, there were attacks on its servers and the servers of the sites El Pitazo and El Cooperante from 10:50 am to 12:50 p.m., local time, during which period the sites were down. The attacks were confirmed by the Efecto Cocuyo technical team, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS, for its initials in Spanish) of Venezuela and by the internet monitoring organization Venezuela Sin Filtro.

“This prevented our audience from being directly informed from our website about Juan Guaidó’s arrival to Venezuela, the reactions to this information and other relevant news that occured on March 4, between 10:50 in the morning and 12:50 midday,” Ronny Rodríguez, editorial coordinator of Efecto Cocuyo, told the Knight Center. “We had to use our social networks to release information, including Facebook to expand the information from our media outlet.”

However, the technical team of El Pitazo said that its site was off the air due to "a block executed by operators ABA-Cantv, Digitel and Movistar." This would be the fourth block of this kind against the outlet since Sept. 8, 2017, when the first block of its former URL elpitazo.com was recorded. "On none of the occasions has any public or private entity reported on the reason for the block," the website said.

The National Telephone Company of Venezuela (Cantv) is "the main telephone provider in the country," according to Efecto Cocuyo, and belongs to the Venezuelan state.

The NetBlocks observatory reported that both Twitter and SoundCloud had restricted access on March 4 through operator Cantv. The organization said users reported that, on Twitter, photos and videos did not download, and that "such measures are known to be used by authorities to prevent the sharing of media from protests.”

The audio platform SoundCloud has had access restrictions in Venezuela since Feb. 27, according to NetBlocks, which added that Guaidó uses the streaming service to make audio posts and share them on his Twitter profile.

The organization reported other disruptions and blocks on Cantv during January and February of this year.

For example, Twitter was blocked on Feb. 27. Services like YouTube, VIVOPlay and Microsoft Bing were disrupted on Feb. 23, as Guaidó and Colombian President Iván Duque met on a bridge between the two countries, during attempts to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela. Google services experienced disruptions during Guaidó speeches on Feb. 18 and Feb. 12. Streaming platforms were disrupted on Jan. 29 during a National Assembly session.

During protests on Jan. 23, NetBlocks reported disruptions in the country that affected YouTube, Google Search, social media and other services. And, Wikipedia was blocked on Jan. 12.

"Interception" on the Venezuelan internet, according to IPYS investigation

An IPYS investigation released on Feb. 20 said that blocking, theft of data and false content have been used to undermine the digital efforts of opponents of the Maduro government.

In 40 days between January and February, at least 10 digital portals of political and opinion initiatives, message applications, search engines, social networks and video platforms have been blocked in different circumstances in Venezuela, IPYS says. Among them are YouTube, the political opinion site Aporrea.org, Instagram, Facebook and Wikipedia.

The organization Venezuela Sin Filtro said on March 4 that the platform for online petitions, Change.org, has been blocked by Cantv since Feb. 28, and the websites of news media of Diario 2001 and MeridianoTV have been blocked since the 1st.