The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is so concerned about social media sites that "spy on citizens" that it has created its own version of Facebook and Twitter and other commercial networks called Red Patria (“Homeland Network”).
Since May, a beta version has been running on the web, created by Cenditel, the section of Venezuela’s science ministry that is charged with digital innovation.
“This is a computing platform made by Venezuelan innovators to ease the formation, communication and organization between social groups,” according to a press release announcing Red Patria’s creation. “It’s an alternative tool to commercial social networks – Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and others – used by governments to stock information and spy on citizens of different nations.”
Around 7.9 million bolívars, or some $1.25 million, have been invested since 2013 in its development, according to official Cenditel documents.
The social network has an online blog with some information about Cenditel activities. Since Red Patria was launched, members of the Bolivarian Front of Scientific Innovators, Researchers and Workers (or Frebin, in its Spanish acronym), have been moving around the country meeting with Chavista social groups to promote the use of Red Patria.
“I have always told my comrades at the communal council that we need to communicate more. We need to take advantage of this network to weave the power of the people,” Teresa Romero, a municipal government employee from the town of Caroní in the eastern part of the country, said at one of the meetings, the blog noted.
Red Patria has six different applications – all of them with names associated with Venezuelan birds.
Nido (“nest”) is described as “similar to Facebook” – a site where you can post videos, photos, sounds and comments.
Colibrí (“hummingbird”), is the equivalent of WhatsApp; Cardenalito (“little cardinal”) is Red Patria’s version of Twitter; and Condor is a social media management app that works like TweetDeck or Hootsuite.
The last couple of apps are a little different from the commercial social networks. Golondrinas (“swallows”) is as a cloud on which social groups can share important documents or make public consultations.
Mochuelo (“small owl”) is an “early-warning system” that allows users to denounce any event that “damage the rights of the people.”
Fox News Latino contacted José Contreras, one of the network’s creators, but he wasn’t allowed to comment about the project.
Experts believe that Red Patria will not be a success if the plan is to replace Facebook and Twitter entirely in Venezuela.
There are no official figures about users, but according to similarweb.com, Red Patria gets 7,000 monthly visits , which makes it the 10,846th most-visited site in Venezuela.
Facebook, tops among social networks, is No. 2 overall.
“I think that Red Patria works for Chavismo as a digital ghetto,” William Peña, editor of the local digital magazine Inside Telecom, told FNL. “They openly exclude the rest of society because they want a place where they can organize their people and even plan strategies to later apply on the traditional networks. If they achieve that goal, [Red Patria] can be successful.”
César David Chirinos, president of the NGO Fundación Ciudades Digitales (“Digital Cities Foundation”), agrees with Peña. “As long as it’s a network to empower their own people, it can be successful.”
Both Peña and Chirinos believe the Venezuelan regime is trying to figure out different ways to gain a stranglehold on the web – spearheaded by the government’s telecom agency, Conatel – and that Red Patria is part of that objective.
“Since last year, Conatel has blocked more than 1,500 web pages, especially those that discuss the exchange rate on the black market,” Peña pointed out.
On October 2014, seven twitter users were arrested under cybercrime accusations for comments posted online. Just one of them has been released.
“[The government is] trying to scare people so that they think twice before posting something,” Peña said.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.