Venezuela’s planned referendum to bolster its claim to the disputed Essequibo, a resource-rich strip of land controlled and administered by Guyana, has sparked fears of a military confrontation.
The referendum, scheduled for December 3, would measure public support for creating a Guayana Essequibo state to be incorporated into Venezuelan territory and for granting Venezuelan citizenship to Essequibo’s inhabitants.
Guyana sees the referendum as a precursor to Venezuela annexing the territory and has called on the International Court of Justice to stop the vote. Venezuela says the ICJ doesn’t have jurisdiction in the matter and vows to go ahead with the ballot measure.
Social media users have seized on these tensions to spread disinformation.
Clash Report, a blue-checked X user with nearly 334,000 followers, was one of a number of active subscribers to the platform who shared a video claiming hostilities had broken out between the two countries.
The account tweeted a video showing a firefight in a forested area. The post read:
“Reported footage of fighting on the Venezuela Guyana border near a passage that goes across Brazil. Earliler [SIC] reports claimed Brazilian intelligence service said it had received intelligence that the Venezuelan army would launch a military operation against the Republic of Guyana.”
Claims that a firefight took place on the Guyana-Venezuela border are false.
The video shows a firefight between National Liberation Army (ELN) and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC) Marxist-Leninist guerrillas, on one side, and the Clan del Golfo, a Colombian paramilitary group and drug cartel, on the other.
One of the fighters can be seen wearing what appears to be a red and black armband, with the letters “E-L-N” written in white, common among ELN guerillas. The fighters are also in mismatched uniforms, indicating they are not regular military forces, and speak with Colombian accents.
The Colombian newscaster Noticias Caracol reported on the clashes on November 22.
Noticias Caracol said the fighting occurred in the municipality of Briceno, Antioquia, a department in central-northwestern Colombia. The newscaster said the clashes had created a “serious humanitarian situation,” confining thousands of farmers to their homes.
Noticias Caracol’s broadcast incorporated some of the same footage used by Clash Report in its deceptive post.
A community note has since been added to Clash Report’s post, which has been viewed more than 1 million times and has not been removed. The post received at least 161,000 views before that community note was added.
The report from Noticias Caracol, posted seven days before Clash Report misappropriated the footage, received less than half the number of views — 61,300 — as of November 30.
Other blue-checked accounts on X shared the same false information as Clash Report and did not receive community notes debunking that claim.
One of those posts, by blue-checked account Alert Channel, had received 88,000 views at the time of publication.
However, in sharing that footage, Alert Channel quoted one of its previous posts, claiming a war had broken out between Venezuela and Brazil.
That post did receive a community note, saying there was no proof Venezuela and Brazil have gone to war and that the claim Venezuela is considering military action against Guyana is itself “speculation.”
As Polygraph.info previously reported, the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana has roots in the colonial era.
In 1899, a tribunal of five arbitrators — two from Britain, two from the U.S., and one from Russia — awarded most of the disputed territory to then British Guiana. Venezuela disagreed with the ruling but abided by it.
In 1962, Venezuela reintroduced its claim over Essequibo on the international stage, arguing the 1899 ruling was “null and void.”
In 1966, months before Guyana gained its independence, the United Kingdom and Venezuela reached the Geneva Agreement. The Geneva Agreement stated that the sides would peacefully resolve the border dispute, and if they failed to do so, they would “refer the decision as to the means of settlement to an appropriate international organ upon which they both agree or, failing agreement on this point, to the secretary-general of the United Nations.”
In 2018, after a decades-long attempt to resolve the dispute ultimately failed, Guyana filed an application against Venezuela with the ICJ “to confirm the legal validity and binding effect” of the 1899 ruling.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro argued that the ICJ lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. However, the ICJ ruled in April that it did have jurisdiction.
Tensions heightened after ExxonMobil, which started oil and gas exploration activities in Guyana in 2008, made its “first significant oil find offshore Guyana” in 2015.
In claiming Essequibo, Venezuela says those offshore oil and gas resources fall within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone, not Guyana’s.
As with the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social media remains a primary source of disinformation about global conflicts.
In September, a top European Union official said that among social media platforms, X was the largest source of mis- and disinformation.
An analysis published that month by the disinformation monitoring and analytics firm TrustLab supported that claim.