CARACAS, Venezuela, Monday June 19, 2017 – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has lashed out at Twitter, deeming it “an expression of fascism” and accusing it of persecuting his followers.
The president’s tirade came on Saturday after an unknown number of pro-government accounts were blocked from the social media platform.
Maduro said thousands of accounts had been suspended because his followers were an expression of the truth and were a majority.
Earlier, his Information Minister, Ernesto Villegas, had said 180 accounts were hit.
Among the suspended accounts was that of Radio Miraflores, a station set up by Maduro that broadcasts from the presidential palace and includes a weekly salsa show presented by the president.
Speaking at a televised rally, Maduro announced that Twitter had “deactivated thousands of people’s accounts.
“Simply for being Chavistas,” he added, using the term for followers of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
Chavez, the architect of socialism in Venezuela, was a pioneer among politicians in the use of Twitter, boasting millions of followers and frequently announcing news on the platform. His four million followers still beat Maduro’s three million.
Maduro called on his followers to publish photos of the head of Twitter in Venezuela, to show people “who was responsible for the manipulation.”
It was not immediately clear if Twitter had any employees in Venezuela. The US company does not list Caracas among the cities where it has international offices.
While it was not known why the accounts were suspended, Villegas said the last tweet from one of the accounts @miraflores_TV, reported comments by Maduro against US Vice-President Mike Pence, made on Thursday.
Twitter’s guidelines say accounts can be suspended for abusive behaviour, security or spam, among other reasons.
In spite of his harsh condemnation of Twitter, Maduro urged his supporters to keep using the service as a way of countering online the opposition, which has taken to the streets over the past two months to complain about crippling food and medicine shortages, demand elections and protest restrictions.
“They killed thousands of accounts, if they shut down a thousand, we will open 10,000 or more with the youth,” Maduro said. “The battle on social media is very important.”
On Saturday, hundreds of opposition activists held prayer services in Caracas and other cities to oppose Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
In the streets, the protesters have kept the pressure on the government, with clashes with security forces killing at least 72 people since the end of March.
On Saturday, Maduro threatened opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, saying he would sooner or later “face justice” for deaths in the protests.